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Transnet and Prasa fork out billions to combat theft an...

South Africa


Transnet and Prasa fork out billions to combat theft and vandalism

A girl sits on disused Prasa train tracks in Philippi station on the Central Line in Cape Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

The costs of security at state-owned enterprises Transnet and Prasa are increasing significantly. Parliamentarians and the two rail agencies are looking at solutions to the problem.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) spends R1-billion a year to protect its infrastructure, group CEO David Mphelo told Parliament on Wednesday. 

Mphelo led the Prasa team at a joint meeting of the parliamentary oversight committees on transport and public enterprises, where it appeared alongside the Department of Transport and the freight agency Transnet, to discuss the state of SA’s rail infrastructure. 

The country’s rail network, which both Transnet and Prasa use, is in a vulnerable position due to extensive theft and vandalism. Both agencies have to beef up security efforts, which leads to additional spending. 

transnet prasa theft vandalism
Kliptown train station in Soweto on 17 November 2021. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

Transnet CEO Portia Derby told Parliament that during the current  financial year, Transnet had lost 1,500km of cables to theft. By comparison, in 2015 it lost 128km. Transnet has to pay for the replacement of the cables, said Derby. 

She said that Transnet spent R1.5-billion on security in 2022. The costs had “significantly” increased since 2018, when Transnet spent R1-billion on security.  

Derby said there had been a “few” instances of Transnet staff being involved in the theft of rail infrastructure, but most cable theft was committed by outsiders. “Frankly, it’s a lucrative business,” said Derby, adding that copper sold for R2,000 a kilogram. 

She told Parliament it was “crucial” for Transnet to speak to Prasa about security measures, including railway policing. 

Beyond the roller coaster ride — whither South Africa?

Security officials

Prasa’s Mphelo told the meeting that the rail agency had 4,922 of its own officials and worked with about 5,000 officials from the railway police component of the South African Police Service and with 1,600 security officials from the Airports Company South Africa. 

Prasa is in the process of building a 4m-high concrete wall in the Central Line corridor and is investing in control rooms which, Mphelo said, will “allow us to use technology as a force multiplier” in the fight against the theft of infrastructure. Prasa is also investing in K9 units to beef up security. 

During the session, Mphelo suggested the rail network and rail components needed to be considered for national key point status to ensure the problem received “the attention it deserves”. 

Derby agreed that rail should be looked at as a national key point, but warned about the costs associated with maintaining a national key point. 

Mphelo said that while there had “not [been] a single incident” on the Mabopane line in Tshwane since its reopening, Cape Town’s Central Line still had problems with theft, vandalism and land occupations. 

 Read in Daily Maverick: Informal settlements on Metrorail tracks still hinder progress on Cape Town’s Central Line

transnet prasa theft vandalism
An image taken from the top of the pedestrian bridge at the Old Benrose Station, Johannesburg, shows the remains of what were once several railway lines. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Guards shot

Meanwhile, two Prasa security guards were shot in Cape Town on Tuesday while protecting the recovery work between Bonteheuwel and Lavistown. 

“Contractors were installing overhead copper cables on the line when two armed men in a black VW Polo fired 10 shots at security,” said Prasa. 

The two security guards sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to a hospital. 

The City of Cape Town has offered a reward of R5,000 to anyone who can supply information that leads to the arrest of the perpetrators. 

“I want to make it clear that the City of Cape Town will not tolerate this kind of criminality… we cannot continue to live in a society in which the lives of those performing essential public service are threatened by gangsters and criminals,” said Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis. DM



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