Five days after a train crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 75 people, survivors are expressing anger and dismay, blaming the authorities for forcing them to travel in undignified and dangerous conditions.
These so-called “illegal” travelers also accuse the military, machinists and other railroad agents of pocketing their money, without the slightest ticket in return, to allow them to climb into freight cars at the risk of their lives.
“We have no choice”, because of impassable roads and “for lack of other means of transport, we are forced to travel like this”, Tchijujia Corea, who arrived on Tuesday in Tenke, a mining town in the south-east of the DRC, told the AFP.
Several dozen surviving passengers were transported to Tenke on board half a dozen cars of the train that had not derailed and fallen into the ravine. They were accompanied by soldiers, who repeatedly prevented the AFP journalist from filming and interviewing the passengers.
– “We pay” –
On Sunday, the director general of the National Railway Company of Congo (SNCC), Fabien Mutomb, had deplored that there were deaths “in the accident of this freight train, which (was) not appropriate for passengers,” while according to him four passenger trains make the same journey each month.
“That’s not true,” Corea says. If that were the case, he says, “people would pay for their tickets and travel normally. But here, “we pay the agents, we pay the military, who are clandestine transporters on the trains,” he accuses.
An SNCC driver, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that he was “like everyone else” and that he was “obliged” to contribute to this system, which “makes so-called illegal passengers pay”, because of “miserable wages”.
“It is a network of several levels: the military, the SNCC police, the disabled, the merchants, all of them, they appropriate the empty cars” and at the end “they give us a small percentage”, explains the driver.
The SNCC railway workers have accumulated up to 150 months of salary arrears, he recalls. He acknowledges that his salary of 580,000 Congolese francs ($290) is now “almost regular”, but insufficient to “make ends meet”.
– Reversing –
As for the cause of the accident, a provincial minister said on Sunday that it was due to “the sudden cut in traction”. According to Tchijujia Corea, from the beginning, a problem had been found on the locomotive which, he said, could not climb a hill.
“On the mountain, the electricity was cut off,” said another traveler, Marie Milemba, a shopkeeper, sitting on the ground near the surviving cars. The locomotive started to reverse and picked up speed, she said. Cars came off the tracks and “fell into the ravines. “Ours was stopped by a power pole, so that was our luck,” she notes simply.
Another passenger who survived, Donat Kabuya, a street trader, mentions the poor condition and dilapidation of the rails. “That’s the problem,” he said, going so far as to wish for the return of the “Whites” to repair the network.
Finally, the survivors question the official figures. Donat Kabuya speaks of a thousand dead, Tchijujia Core of “more than 200”, Marie Milemba does not know, she has not seen. “I was traumatized,” she says. The figures communicated this weekend by the Ministry of Communication are 75 dead and 125 wounded, 28 of whom are “with serious trauma”.