South Africa

REPORT

Mbalula: Train vandals must be charged with economic sabotage

Mbalula: Train vandals must be charged with economic sabotage
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Sune Payne)

The Minister of Transport, Fikile ‘Mr Fix-it’ Mbalula, wants harsher punishment for those who vandalise, steal train components and commit arson on infrastructure belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

The law is too lenient on those charged with theft and damaging the country’s rail infrastructure. 

“They are charged with theft and so on, they can get out [of jail] even tomorrow,” Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said. “They must be charged with economic sabotage.”

Mbalula made these comments while visiting the site of an illegal “melting factory” in Heidelberg, Ratanda on Sunday 9 February where more than R2-million worth of items belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) were recovered on Monday 3 February. During the same operation, two men, one a Prasa employee, were arrested. 

“This is a house of crime,” said Mbalula in front of Number 5972 Siyamkela Street, Section 23, Ratanda in Heidelberg. “It’s a house of criminality. It’s a factory of crime.” 

Bongisizwe Mpondo, the Prasa administrator, said the theft of the infrastructure was the work of external parties who “work with some of our staff members”. 

The men were allegedly “caught in action” melting rail copper cables and other train components at their illegal operation in Heidelberg. Mbalula said the suspects steal, melt and then export the metal to Mozambique. 

Unfortunately, this operation is not unique, Mbalula said. 

“It’s not the only house in the republic,” Mbalula said. “We know of others. And they work like zama-zamas. It’s an internal job. Technicians or security companies work with them.”

Prasa has lost almost R1-billion over the past two years to arson, vandalism and public disorder.

The cost to commuters left stranded and unable to get to work has not been measured.

Mbalula condemns these as “acts of cowardice by criminals” whom he believes are determined to sabotage a commuter rail service that is critical for South Africa’s economy.

In a separate incident, four men were arrested on Friday night in connection with the burning of trains in the Braamfontein trainyard in 2019. They are due to appear in court on Monday 10 February. DM

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