Business Maverick

National Council of Provinces & Prasa Looting

Officials say no contingency plans for train commuters

Officials say no contingency plans for train commuters
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Amos Masondo (standing under an umbrella in a beige shirt), and his delegation interact with Prasa officials at the Kathlehong Railway Station. (Photo / Shiraaz Mohamed)

During a parliamentary National Council of Provinces (NCOP) delegation’s inspection of the state of damage and theft at Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in Gauteng on Thursday, 29 October, MPs heard that there were no contingency plans for train commuters.

The parliamentary delegation inspected three extremely damaged train stations, including the Katlehong, Kliptown and Maraisburg train stations. Prasa Gauteng manager Nelson Malefane told Daily Maverick that the theft and vandalism would set back the rail agency more than R3-billion in Gauteng alone.

“The Johannesburg-Vereeniging line is a very busy line with thousands of commuters. Does Prasa have a contingency plan for train commuters or have you just dumped them?” Gauteng legislature deputy chair Mpapa Kanyane asked Prasa officials.

“We acknowledge the damage, there is no way anyone can justify what happened, and this is just the tip of the iceberg considering that you have only visited three stations,” Malefane retorted.

The vandalised Katlehong train station. (Photo: Bheki Simelane)

It was clear from the questioning of Prasa officials that the delegation, led by Amos Masondo, was annoyed at the manner in which Prasa operations in the province were handled. 

“These guys are not taking us seriously. Why are you here and why do you still have the job if there is nothing that shows you are doing something to get train commuters back on trains now?” EFF MP Kenny Motsamai asked.

“Soweto is our kasi (township), far too many people rely on rail services to get by, people entirely depend on this service. How did the theft and vandalism come about right under your watch? You do not have power lines, do not think we are just having a talk-show here,” Winnie Ngwenya, the chairperson of the NCOP said.

A month ago, Daily Maverick reported on the wholesale damage and looting of rail infrastructure in the province. 

Stripped bare: Looting till there is nothing left of Gauteng’s rail network

Kliptown station, which is one of over a dozen train stations previously covered by Daily Maverick, had not been operational since level 5 of the lockdown. He said only three train sets were being run.

“We have lost the overheard structure and we have lost underground structure,” said Zwane.

He told the delegation that for the Kliptown station to run, it required 3,000 volts. Zwane further told the delegation that Katlehong-East Rand train commuters relied on taxis and the Ekurhuleni bus service at their own cost.

The vandalised Katlehong train station. (Photo: Bheki Simelane)

This prompted an angry question from Ngwenya who wanted to know if there was any security at all. Regional security manager Thomas Mabasa said, “We did not have sufficient security and our rail police who supplement the rail guards were called upon to assist with Covid-19 operations. We also had to stave off resistance from communities who attack Prasa staff.”

While it was not immediately clear where or when the armed security guards Prasa claimed to have hired in July 2018 had disappeared during the looting, Daily Maverick established from Prasa that at some point it had hired 250 armed guards

The guards were deployed three weeks before the above report and Prasa said they would cost R38-million over the preceding 12 months.

Katlehong station is one of the train stations that were gutted. The toilets have been destroyed. The palisade fence has been removed. The building’s shell has been demolished, with the bricks stacked together, an indication that someone intended to return for them.

A policeman surveys the damages caused to the public toilets at the Katlehong railway station. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

It is the same at the Maraisburg and Kliptown stations. A considerable amount of clean water pours from one of the big supply pipes. Prasa said they always report any water wastage and problems, however, this was not enough to satisfy the delegation. As in many other stations Daily Maverick visited over the course of the year, there are trenches everywhere, an indication of the desperate search for cables. 

Prasa said many vandals and thieves were arrested, but added that the evidence against might not be sufficient to lead to successful prosecutions.

The rail agency said it had partnered with struggling state entity Denel for supply of technological aerial surveillance equipment such as drones to monitor goings-on at their train stations and elsewhere. Ninety-six cases of theft and vandalism were currently in court and 31 were withdrawn. They attributed the withdrawal of cases to substandard staff training.

“Personnel will properly be trained to avoid cases being registered at police stations and lessen the number of undetected cases,” an unidentified Prasa official said. The passenger rail agency said it had achieved 64% deployment of the about 3,100 newly hired security guards in Gauteng and 13% in KwaZulu-Natal.

A policeman who was part of the delegation takes cellphone pics of the damaged Kliptown station, while two men carrying a fridge walk past.
(Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Prasa told the delegation that 465 cases relating to infrastructure vandalism and theft were recorded with the SAPS in November 2019, 406 in December 2019, and 375 in January 2020. The rail agency said lots of scrap metal which attracted criminals to forage had been dispensed with over the years, adding that the damage and theft of infrastructure was not new.

It further told the delegation that it was advocating for the deregistration and closure of scrap metal dealers found in possession of Prasa infrastructure and that their licences should be revoked.

The delegate expressed their displeasure with Prasa, and said from its standpoint, there was no management as it had failed in Gauteng and that it should have been dissolved by now. The delegation said Prasa management must be able to anticipate risks and employ risk management measures, none of which happened during the lockdown and that they have done absolutely nothing to resuscitate train services.

Prasa further said in total it had about 1,200 cases regarding vandalism with the SAPS, 151 of these were ongoing and 133 under investigation.

When Daily Maverick asked about the timelines for resumption of 100% train operations in Gauteng, Malefane added, “We worked on the estimated timelines and part of what we requested from the committee to assist with was related to confined arrangements with the national treasury to give the situation of rehabilitating rail infrastructure special attention. The value of rehabilitating rail infrastructure is worth more than R3-billion”. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Barry Davies says:

    This is a national disaster. Apart from looking like a post-apocalyptic movie set. Many low-income workers are paying as much as R500-00 pm extra to travel by taxi.
    This could be as much as 25% of their wages. Many feeling that the wanton destruction of the rail services is sponsored by taxi-based interests. But once again mismanagement hits the poor the hardest. How long can SA last with a gangster government?

  • Russ H says:

    Another great ANC achievement !

  • Helen Lachenicht says:

    Bus companies should be contracted at the same price to the passengers as they would pay for train tickets!

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