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Two sisters have vowed never to use the Gautrain again after they were allegedly detained for hours, questioned by the police and fined R700 for chewing gum at the station.
The sisters, one of whom was excited at the prospect of riding on the train for the first time on Friday, said they had been unaware that chewing gum was not allowed on the Gautrain.
They said they were prevented from boarding the train and taken to a security office, where they were held against their will for about four hours and released after signing a R700 penalty. They said no one wanted to listen to them during this time.
Pontso Pakkies said they had decided to ride the Gautrain together just before her sister, Lebo Sibisi, went home to Durban after a short visit last week.
Sibisi is passionate about trains and had just returned from a two-week holiday in Europe, where she and her husband had mostly travelled on trains.
Just after lunch at the Rosebank Mall, the two sisters had started to chew some gum to clear their breath before heading home to Pretoria, they said. While waiting for the train, Pakkies said, a security guard approached them and told them to get rid of their gum.
They asked him why.
“Unfortunately, there was a language barrier, as we spoke Zulu and English to the guard. He struggled to understand.”
The sisters called another guard. After his explanation, Pakkies said they then wrapped the gum in tissues and placed the bits in their bags as there was no bin nearby.
But just as the train approached, one of the security managers told them not to board, she said.
”He said we had refused to throw the gum away and he was going to fine us… He would not hear any of our explanations.”
Pakkies said they were detained for four hours in a room that had no cellphone reception, were refused permission to go to the toilet or to go outside to make a call to their families, who were worried about them. She said the police were also called. Three armed officers arrived, one in a bullet-proof vest. But after an hour, the officers left.
When she was eventually accompanied outside by a security manager and another guard to make a call after two hours, Pakkies said she had seen a white man drinking Coke.
“This to me clearly showed that the system is extremely unfair and the staff of Gautrain are poorly trained.
We did not know about this rule and when we asked for clarity, we were treated violently, threatened, manipulated and intimidated.”
The sisters were released only after they had agreed to pay the R700 fine. They intend to appeal.
Gautrain operating company Bombela Concession Company said rules on its trains, stations and buses were to ensure the highest standards of safety, cleanliness and efficiency.
Spokeswoman Kelebogile Machaka said: “Eating (including gum and sweets) and drinking is not allowed on the Gautrain and is considered a transgression of the Gautrain travel rules.
“Removing gum from tiles, upholstery and carpeting in trains cannot only prove to be costly, but in some instances may inconvenience another passenger who has to step on it or sit on a chair plastered with gum unaware. There are numerous visible signs at Gautrain stations,” Machaka said.
She said there were baby-changing rooms at Gautrain stations, “and we encourage parents that travel with young babies to use these facilities”.