Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has condemned vandalism of commuter rail infrastructure.
This follows two train sets set alight at Cape Town station on Thursday which saw 18 coaches gutted with damage estimated at R61 million.
“The lawlessness in our commuter rail environment must be uprooted. We will use every resource at our disposal to find these criminals and ensure they face the full might of the law. It is time our social partners stepped to the plate and work with government and law enforcement authorities ensuring public assets are protected,” the Minister said.
Addressing the media at the Cape Town station, he said over the last five years, 213 coaches were lost due to arson at a cost of R643 million.
“We are outraged at this deliberate act of criminality clearly calculated to paralyse the Metrorail service in Cape Town.
“Over time, Metrorail has been a target of criminal acts with a devastating effect on the service. These acts have far reaching implications for the economy and commuters who rely on trains to get to work every day,” he said.
The Minister said in recent weeks, stations and other rail infrastructure were vandalised and destroyed and assets were stolen.
He said cable theft is a daily phenomenon crippling the country’s signalling system resulting in long delays.
“We will never defeat this cancer of lawlessness until communities declare criminal conduct will not be perpetuated in their name. When a train is cancelled due to shortage of trains as a result of criminal conduct, somebody’s livelihood is affected.
“The cries of workers who lose their jobs due to chronic late coming as a result of delayed trains must spur us into action. If we throw our hands in the air in exasperation, the criminals win,” the Minister said.
Mbalula said some criminal acts are staged to force Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) hand to continue with an arrangement not only found irregular by the Auditor-General and the Public Protector, but one exposed PRASA to “inside jobs”.
“We are under no illusion the recent cancellation of security contracts by PRASA is a contributing element to heightened lawlessness.
“In the current climate where society expects us to visibly demonstrate our commitment to uprooting corruption, malfeasance, state capture, it is critical for PRASA to regularise procurement that continues to perpetuate irregular expenditure. The security contracts were one such area,” the Minister said.
Mbalula said for many years, concerns were raised by the security cluster about unmitigated risks brought about by a proliferation of security contracts in the PRASA environment.
“On that basis we have committed that PRASA needs to strengthen internal security capacity directly employing personnel to protect its assets and environment, working closely with the Rapid Rail Police. Our commitment to create jobs through the in-sourcing of this service is unshakeable,” the Minister said.
He called on organs of civil society, which include organisations like United Commuters’ Voice and #Unite Behind and others, to champion the campaign against criminality in the rail sector.
“The duty to improve our commuter rail service is a collective one requiring a genuine social compact. If we work together, we will grow South Africa to unprecedented levels,” he said.