Gun-wielding gangsters target Prasa, derail Western Cape train line repair plans
Gang bosses, apparently angry about being cut out of security contracts on Cape Town’s railways, had their foot soldiers chase away those doing the jobs they want. They may also be behind a warning video of men shooting firearms into the air from the train tracks.
Operations to rehabilitate sections of railway in the Western Cape that have been destroyed through vandalism and theft have been put on hold because of threats of violence by gangsters.
Daily Maverick understands that on Monday, a video showing two men armed with high-calibre firearms and shooting into the air from railway tracks in Cape Town, was sent to Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) officials as a warning.
Gangsters in Bonteheuwel (Netreg station in the video) have been demanding “protection fees” from Prasa’s subcontractors who are working to restore service to the Central Line. pic.twitter.com/V7lFU34uCq
— Quinton Mtyala (@mtyala) August 31, 2022
There were also reports that gangsters scared off workers who were repairing damaged infrastructure at certain Prasa sites. It is understood that certain gang bosses are angry over the awarding of security contracts or the allocating of jobs in the security sector, and are using intimidation and extortion to get what they want.
This week’s reports come after two Prasa security guards were wounded in a shooting in June. They were targeted at rail tracks that were being repaired near the Cape Town suburb of Bonteheuwel, areas of which are known to be gang strongholds.
Suspended repair work
The latest security issues have also affected stretches of Cape Town’s rail network that are undergoing repair work after being neglected and targeted by criminals.
Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda on Tuesday told Daily Maverick, without referring to the threatening video or going into details, that the situation was volatile.
One of the affected tracks is in Netreg, Bonteheuwel (the area where the two security guards were shot and wounded).
“We have had to suspend recovery work, which will delay recovery on that particular section,” Makanda said.
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‘Gangsters won’t hold us to ransom’
DA ward councillor Angus McKenzie, who deals with the Bonteheuwel area, said on Monday that “workers were stopped from working and chased off site by extortionist gangsters”.
McKenzie added: “To ensure the safety of staff and the surrounding communities, a decision was taken to halt operations… not to appease gangsters and extortionists, but to make sure that those staff members are safe.”
Work at the tracks could resume later this week.
“We will not be held to ransom by gangsters, neither will we allow gangsters to assume control of our projects and communities… This is not how we will operate and this is most certainly not what will [be] accepted,” McKenzie said.
Western Cape police spokesperson Captain Frederick van Wyk told Daily Maverick that a meeting was held between officers and Prasa members early on Tuesday “regarding the intimidation and extortion”.
“The Prasa team indicated that all work will be [paused] until they have structures in place… A follow-up meeting will then take place.”
While Van Wyk did not refer to guns being fired into the air on Monday, he said Bishop Lavis police opened an inquiry into the intimidation of a Prasa contractor that occurred on Monday.
The contractor, he said, did not want to open a case with police.
‘We are under siege’
At the time of the security guard shootings in June, Prasa issued a statement saying: “Prasa is on a journey of recovering stolen and/or vandalised rail infrastructure and is aware of the vulnerability of the recovery work to criminal syndicates and opportunistic criminals.
“We have contracted and deployed additional security on the lines we are recovering, but it is clear that we are under siege, and the criminals will stop at nothing to get what they want.”
Central Line closure
Daily Maverick has previously reported on Cape Town’s Central Line needing substantial repairs because of vandalism and theft.
The Central Line runs through 21 stations. A line to Bellville station also runs on the Central Line to stations including Bonteheuwel.
The Central Line was initially closed in late 2019 due to continuous vandalism and infrastructure theft, particularly at Netreg, where gang activities seem to have surged.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said last month: “I am pleased to learn that work is currently under way to refurbish the Bonteheuwel and [nearby] Lavistown stations,” he said.
“To safeguard the rail infrastructure, we have increased the number of security personnel on the ground to improve safety of our commuters and staff. We remain confident that the integrated security plan will turn the tide against theft and vandalism.”
Last month, GroundUp reported that Mbalula said the Central Line may be fully functional by December, but commuters were sceptical. DM
This article was updated with the video embed which began to circulate on social media on Wednesday morning.