WHY CALL IT PUBLIC TRANSPORT IF IT IS WHOLLY PRIVATISED AND EXCLUSIONARY: THE CASE OF THE PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED
eSwatini is perhaps one of the few countries in the region where public transport is wholly privatized and a plethora of challenges arise from this. Key among them being accessibility to the physically challenged.
Vusi Malinga*, a physically challenged person from Maliyaduma in Manzini, can tell a better story on the chronicles of living with disabilities in our country. A first born in a family of three, Malinga was born physically challenged and only managed to go up to grade three at St Joseph School for the Physically Challenged before his impoverished family could no longer take him further with his education.
The challenges were many; his family couldn't afford school fees, couldn't afford to commute daily and struggled with the necessary infrastructure at school to help him cope with a schooling environment already struggling with scarce resources. Today he sits at home with no job and no source of income. He details a number of problems a person with disabilities faces in this country but all centre around the challenges of public transport and its accessibility.
A physically challenged person trying to get into a public transport.
"Look, everything boils down to public transport. If you do not have a car you cannot be able to do anything. No matter the help that can be available you cannot access it if you do not have the means to get there," Malinga says. He gives the example that since most of them are unemployed each time they must take public transport they must budget for two seats, one for the wheelchair and the other for them. He says government support, disability grants, buildings friendly to people like him are just another frequency of the discussion.
The basics start with leaving home to access whatever help, or lack thereof, that may or may not be there. "Where do you get the money to 'pay double' so to speak? During rush hour most of us miss transport because we require a lot of attention. If you using a bus someone must take your wheelchair, carry you on the steps and all of that. If you are driven by profit maximization you won't have time for us and the attention we require," Malinga complains.
He adds that given how kombis are now dominating public transport, as opposed to buses, they are increasingly finding it difficult to squeeze through those confined spaces. Federation Organization of the Disabled People in Swaziland (FODSWA) President Bongani Makama claims the problem lies in the wholesome privatization of public transport.
He reasons that if the agenda is to make profits no due consideration will be given to people with special needs if that will compromise profits. "The problem is that public transport is privately owned. You cannot lobby private owners to do public good. Theirs is profits. If you have public transport that can take 80 people and you must now moderate it to carry 30 less people to make room for people with disabilities then that goes again the logic of making profit," Makama says.
The answer lies in government regulation of public transport, just as they do on buildings, to make public transport accessible and friendly to people with disabilities. Alternatively, Makama argues, government must enter the public transport space to provide public good not driven by profit maximization. The African Protocol on Persons Living with Disabilities enjoins the state to give certain rights and assign certain responsibilities. Such responsibilities include the right to public transport. NB: *Not real name