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Braamfontein train blaze: Lack of evidence sets Prasa Four free

Braamfontein train blaze: Lack of evidence sets Prasa Four free
Metro trains stand burnt out after been set on fire near the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein, South Africa on 25 May 2010. (Photo by Gallo Images/Daily Sun/Jan Right)

Four men, arrested on Friday 7 February 2020 in connection with the burning of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa infrastructure at the Braamfontein train yard in Johannesburg in December 2019, were due to appear in court on Monday. But even before they were called before a magistrate, they were ‘sent home’ due to a lack of evidence against them.

On Sunday Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula waxed lyrical about how those arrested for vandalism of rail infrastructure should be charged with economic sabotage. On Monday he attended what he thought would be the start of a case against four men accused of burning trains in Braamfontein in 2019. It was not to be.

Instead, Phumeza Futshane, the chief prosecutor at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, announced on 10 February that the case would not go ahead. 

“A team of prosecutors was put together to see the case and the statements in the dockets and the evidence that was brought forward… After a thorough evaluation of the case, it transpired that we need more meat,” Futshane said.

In December 2019, nine plain trailers and three motor coaches were burnt at the Braamfontein train yard in Johannesburg.

Recalling the incident, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa said: “A cloud of black smoke was seen up in the sky… we clearly noticed that it was coming from the Braamfontein yard.”

Mgitywa said damage was estimated at R50-million.

Investigations by Prasa Protection Services and the police led to a “witness” who said he had seen four men split into two groups on the day of the fire. The man said he saw the four stripping the coaches of copper cables. While doing this, a particular wire was cut which caused sparks to fly and led to the fire starting.

The “witness” to the incident is himself facing a separate investigation related to vandalism of Prasa infrastructure.

“Investigations (in the case of the burnt trains) will be ongoing. We need to make sure that when we bring people to court we are able to put out a prima facie (at first impression) case that we can prove in court,” said Phindi Mjonondwane, Gauteng spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority. She said at present there was “no case” against the four men.

Monday’s non-starter case comes a day after Mbalula visited an illegal “melting factory” in Heidelberg on Sunday 9 February, where he told the media that he believed the law was too lenient on those who vandalise, steal train components and commit arson. 

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

Speaking outside the courthouse on Monday, Mbalula said:

“We call upon the criminal justice system to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that these criminals face the full might of the law by imposing the maximum penalty permissible in law.” DM

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