Michel Muberuka

Acting director of transportation services, Polokwane Municipality

Public transport is the key to stitching South Africa’s fragmented, spatially disconnected cities back together. Where the poorest of the poor often live the furthest away from services and jobs, connectivity changes lives.

As acting director of transportation services in the Polokwane Municipality, Michel Muberuka plays a crucial role in helping make that happen in the region — he is responsible for implementing an Integrated Public Transport Project.

Implementing transport systems is challenging and Muberuka has to co-ordinate the construction of large infrastructure, and manage often suspicious and emotional stakeholders like the minibus taxi industry, while designing a system that is affordable, safe and reliable for the community.

As a boy, he was curious about engineering, dismantling toys to find out how they worked. A degree in civil engineering at UCT sparked further interest in urban engineering and transport studies, which was further fuelled by time spent working in different parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe, which taught him about the relationship between policy and infrastructure implementation.

“I believe conscious public transport planning married with sound spatial planning can only ultimately lead to harmonised communities and healthier lives for all,” says Muberuka.

Openly a proponent of non-motorised transport (NMT), and knowing Polokwane’s vision to lead the way in innovation, sustainable development and pro-poor public transport interventions, Muberuka’s office promotes walking and cycling as a means of transport. As a result, NMT is a large component of the Polokwane Integrated Rapid Public Transport System.

“Apart from zero carbon emissions, the health benefits are endless. We are fast transforming our city’s look.”

Muberuka says his greatest challenge is finding the perfect balance between the different elements that drive a multifaceted project involving systems planning, infrastructure implementation, contract management, business and finance, marketing and communications.

“One must conscious of the tough financial times we find ourselves in, yet still try to maximise the benefits we provide to commuters who will use the system. There is also a need for a certain level of maturity and sensitivity when it comes to handling taxi and bus industry transition matters — it requires a well-defined change management process.”