Pretoria - Despite Mabopane to Pretoria trains being back on the tracks much to the relief to both commuters and hawkers who trade along the rail line, things have not exactly been the same, as vendors have been barred from advertising and selling inside the new trains.
Among the disgruntled small business people is Mpho Moloi, who had been selling inside the trains from when he started many years ago. On Saturday, Moloi said he has now resorted to having a stall outside Mabopane train station to continue to generate an income.
"Things have been bad for us hawkers who have depended on selling inside the trains. When the trains were not operational it was hard for us because that is our income."
Moloi and other hawkers explained that selling inside the trains was their bread and butter, and not being allowed to sell inside the newly launched blue trains was a blow to their lives.
The announcement, by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) that they would not be allowed to trade inside, follows the January launch of the R700 million refurbished rail line along Mabopane to Pretoria, after many delays.
The line was closed by Prasa and Metrorail for much needed refurbishing, which followed years of it being stripped of infrastructure, which heightened during lockdown when there was no security along the track.
The worst vandalism was noted during Lockdown level 5 in 2020, when cables were stolen, the railway stripped of metal and other infrastructure destroyed.
The renovations started mid-August, and after many delays, which left hawkers and commuters reeling from the financial strain, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula launched the hi-tech TrainYaBatho, riding the electric trains and saying they were the future of transport.
Prasa did not provide comment on the banning of the hawkers inside trains, but the business people themselves said they had been informed by security not to climb on to the trains, to sell fruit, vegetables, electronic equipment and offer other services.
“They said it was what Prasa had told them, because, somehow, today, after years of doing this, we are not good enough for the trains,” one trader said.
They said they were now taking advantage of commuters rushing for the transportation, and were scattered around the station hoping to make a living.
"Most of those selling inside trains now have stalls around the station. We now wait for those boarding the trains to come outside and buy from us."
Despite having stalls selling fresh vegetables and other much needed items, it could not be business as usual as competition was high, and, they said, they were just not making money as they used to.
"We wait for commuters to come this side, when they pass by,“ said one woman, who said she used the money to ensure her children were fed for school.
Another added: "Business is very slow, it is just not working. It is not the same as selling on the trains, we knew around which times there were more people on the trains that would buy our products."
He put his children through school with that money, he added.
He said selling outside the trains was hard, as there were many stalls selling almost the same things.
"There can be more than 10 of us selling in the stalls in one line but selling the same thing."
Security officials would not comment on the instruction said to have been communicated by the agency.