Cape Town - It is 5.48am when we navigate a maze of corrugated shacks in Khayelitsha’s Site C, K section. The smell of sewage coming from puddles of dirty water dotted along the way hangs thick in the air.
Nomachule Cikoze welcomes us into her two-roomed shack.
She wakes at 4.30am to catch the earliest train possible to work, she tells us.
Dressed in a simple pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt and sweater, she has already washed and had her morning cup of coffee.
The Cape Argus is there to travel with her to work.
Cikoze, 44, is one of a number of commuters who stormed Metrorail management offices last Tuesday demanding answers after yet another series of late trains.
She is a domestic worker in Claremont and has been reprimanded several times for arriving late.
She is worried Metrorail’s tardiness will cost her her job. “My bosses don’t believe me any more. They think I’m always late because I’m doing my own thing,” she says.
Before we head out to Nonkqubela station to take the 6.40am train, we stop at Cikoze’s church, where she says her morning prayers.
The streets are buzzing with people heading to work and children rushing to school.
“I could wake up earlier but it’s not safe around here… muggings are rife,” Cikoze says.
At 6.37am we arrive at the station. “Hide your cellphones in your breasts,” she advises.
“Public Protector Thuli Madonsela must investigate Metrorail like she did with President Jacob Zuma. It hurts what Metrorail is doing to us.
“They don’t bother informing us about what is going on, yet in June prices will go up regardless that the service is poor.
“They don’t even make buses available to us any more if the train is running late.”
At 6.42am we board the train – Cikoze uses a monthly ticket that costs her R174 – and squeeze our way to the middle of the carriage where we stand pressed against each other.
“The train is not full this morning, in fact it’s quite empty. Usually we are packed against each other like goats. It’s even hard to breathe,” a passenger with her face pressed to Cikoze’s shoulder tells us.
Several commuters join the conversation and tells the Cape Argus that they, too, are often in trouble at work for arriving late.
Dumisani Tshekana, 35, explains that he is paid R25 an hour and his boss deducts money from his pay whenever he is late.
“Usually I’m two hours late in the mornings and that’s R50 less each day. I don’t earn much and these deductions are money I could use,” he says.
He spends R133 on a monthly ticket from Khayelitsha to Langa.
Tshekana says the train service started deteriorating when Metrorail was transferred to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) in 2008.
“The word Prasa came with problems. I haven’t sat on a seat in the train for a long time,” he says.
“We are tired of their excuses. There are no explanations. All you hear is ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ all the time.
“Another frustrating thing is that you can’t ride in first class when the train is full.
“If the trains are delayed we should be allowed to sit in first class since it’s their fault.
“If they find us there we are fined, so it stands empty while we don’t have a place to sit.”
Another commuter Siya Mbesi, 36, says she had to fork out R20 for a taxi to work in Bellville because of delays in the past week, despite having purchased a monthly train ticket.
“My boss asked me why I don’t use other forms of transport.
“I earn R3 000 a month as a nanny and I have three children to feed. Where is the money going to come from for a taxi or bus every day?” Mbesi asks.
We arrive at Esplanade station in Woodstock at 7.46am.
“I won’t be late this morning, but who knows what will happen this afternoon… or tomorrow?” Cikoze says as she hurries off to catch her next train to Claremont.