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The looting of Prasa and the terrible price SA has been forced to pay

The looting of Prasa and the terrible price SA has been forced to pay
Illustrative image: Commuters hang on to trains at Rondebosch Station in Cape Town. (Photo: GroundUp / Ashraf Hendricks) | Missing rails at the Old Benrose Station in Johannesburg. (Photo / Shiraaz Mohamed) |(Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath ) | Prasa’s new People’s Train. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

When we talk about corruption in South Africa, it can often seem like an abstract concept. But to understand its real-life consequences, look no further than the collapse of South Africa’s train services.

The looting of Prasa, South Africa’s passenger rail service, began around 2012 under the leadership of CEO Lucky Montana. If you want to understand the scale of the graft, a Treasury investigation into 216 contracts awarded by Prasa between 2012 and 2015 found that only 13 were legit. The total value of the contracts was around R15-billion.

The result of this corruption has been the destruction of South Africa’s commuter train service. In 2010, rail passengers were making over 500 million train journeys a year. By 2022, this figure had fallen to 19 million. In Cape Town, the most significant Metrorail line servicing underprivileged communities including Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain, has effectively not been operational since 2019.

According to estimates, this has forced an additional 1 million passengers onto the roads daily, whereas previously they would have used trains. So if you are a Capetonian frustrated by the terrible traffic in the city in recent years, you can trace that back pretty directly to the looting of Prasa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How Prasa was looted and left for scrap

Now let’s talk about Transnet, the government’s custodian of ports, rail and pipelines. Transnet is in charge of the trains that transport cargo rather than humans.

As revealed by the Guptaleaks investigations, the scale of Transnet corruption was the biggest since the Arms Deal in the 1990s. To give just one example, a contract was signed with the Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation in 2014 to buy just over 1,000 locomotives for the price of R54.4 billion, with almost a quarter of the value of this going to Gupta companies.

Of the trains which have arrived so far from this contract, they have been late and pretty much useless. This in combination with the full picture of Transnet corruption, and a spiralling issue with criminal syndicates stealing cables, has meant that the ability of local businesses to transport their goods via rail has been drastically reduced.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Transnet turnaround looks promising, but set to be a long haul

How are those goods being transported now? Via trucks. Which is presenting huge problems for roads and for traffic. In fact, the heavy volume of trucks on the roads is tearing up road infrastructure. This is the reason for many of our potholes, because the roads simply cannot take this kind of pounding. Trucks also account for almost 10% of fatal crashes on South African roads these days, according to a recent study from the Road Management Traffic Corporation.

Together, the collapse of Prasa and Transnet have made all our lives more difficult in multiple ways. That’s the thing about corruption. It isn’t just an abstract concept. It brings down nations. And this is why we need civil society and we need journalism. To expose corruption and to put pressure on those in power to hold the corrupt accountable. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: State of the Media news hub


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Phil Baker says:

    Quite explicit – and nobody is to blame

    • Mike Grace says:

      Well, we all know who to blame but that is as far as it goes, people like Montana are well off today and living like royalty instead of being in jail.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Thanks Rebecca. Maybe you can make it more real by comparing the current daily cost of transport by bus and minibus to what a daily Prasa season ticket would cost.

  • Susan Goldstein says:

    Thank you for this article – it always astounds me that there is no call for a proper railway service, all promises are related to roads. I have wondered about the role of taxi ownership and their stake in keeping the railway service non- functional. State capture operates on more than one level.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “That’s the thing about corruption. It isn’t just an abstract concept. It brings down nations. And this is why we need civil society and we need journalism. To expose corruption and to put pressure on those in power to hold the corrupt accountable.”

    At this point it would have been important to name the ANC as solely responsible for this mess.
    It’s not like you are afraid blaming other parties by name for their perceived failures. I think we need to name the devil clearly, loudly and as often as possible for real failures like this one.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    What we need are politicians that are not corrupt and voters who are not intimidated by their leaders. I think this is an impossible dream in SA.

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    Many years back a news story broke in Jhb. Bank robbers had rented an open shop next to a bank and then had tunneled under the foundations to break directly in the vault. I think they got away with R 100000.00 but it took them a month of back breaking work to do it. Compare this to the ANC thieves today: not millions but billions stolen with very little effort and nobody brought to book. In some other countries they would have been charged with treason because that is what it is! If you were ever in doubt about what the ANC is about I think this article clearly demonstrates that – thieves who have blead this country dry. Vote the ANC out now.

  • John Murray says:


  • A Rosebank Ratepayer says:

    It boils down to the lack of a “no broken windows” approach. Once a “crack” (which may be physical, financial, ethical) starts to appear and is not fixed, through maintenance, a working criminal justice system or an effective call to moral rearmament, things start to snow ball. Each downward spiral becomes harder and harder to correct until only the most ruthless correction will be effective, see Singapore and Rwanda. It is hard to see how else Zimbabwe could be fixed. Turning to SA the impending election will be important to see if it heralds in a regime that halts the downward spiral (which does seem to be slowing although not nearly enough to stop our best people across the board trying to leave) or tries to accelerate it…

  • Lesley Green says:

    Spot on comment Rebecca, thank you. It reminds me of a map I once saw presented by a geographer that was scaled to travel time rather than distance. It was for global travel, so the time to fly New York – London was scaled at around 6-7 hrs pulling them close together while the time to travel the same spatial distance (say to a remote town in Central Asia/Africa) at say 22 hours was scaled accordingly. I’ve often wondered what a time-travel (!) map would look like of Cape Town by train/taxi/road. It would be interesting to visualise Cape Town as a travel time map pre Gupta and post Gupta.

    Corruption becomes personal when it affects you. Thanks for your article showing this.

  • Craig Househam says:

    A sad litany of misfortune for which no-one appears to be held accountable.

  • Paul Bartho says:

    It would be important to get comments from previous users of those services.

  • Terril Scott says:

    What action is being taken to recover the stolen millions?

  • Eckart Schumann says:

    All the details are available in the Zondo report, or read Pauw’s book ‘Our Poisoned Land’. All the details about Lucky Montana, Ramatlakane, Lebeya, Mbalula and others and all their corrupt activities are there for anyone to see. The question then is: why aren’t they prosecuted, convicted and sent to jail? Possibly because SAPS and the legal system in South Africa are themselves totally corrupt?

  • Concerned Citizen says:

    Corruption in the public se tor should be classified as treason, which it is. The corrupt ANC government has been responsible for more destruction of infrastructure, death and suffering than if we had been invaded by a foreign enemy. They are the biggest threat and enemy this country faces

  • Rae Earl says:

    The responsibility for this theft of our railway infrastructure can be laid at the feet of two utterly useless politicians; one is steeped in thieving and treasonous behaviour and the second being happy to carry on where he left by appointing cadres and comrades into positions which they are neither qualified or capable of running. Jacob Zuma sold SA to the Guptas and Cyril Ramaphosa has retained almost every corrupt and inept member in his cabinet, ie. his ‘collective’ who scratch his back in return for reciprocal favours. And poverty stricken jobless citizens still vote for and support these two monstrously ill equipped ‘leaders’. May 29th will dictate if we survive or follow Zimbabwe down the slippery slope to helll.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Quite, and Rebecca, you can’t blame the DA, must be hard for you.

    • Gavin Hillyard says:

      Right on Geoff. I find it hard to understand how someone as intelligent and well- informed as Rebecca Davis is continually putting down the DA, the only party that has proved to be successful in governing. One only has to look at Cape Town and Howick to see proof of this, and to see what has happened in Gqueberha since the coalition of looters took over. A coalition of like-minded parties is the only hope of digging SA Inc. out of the Kimberley-sized hole we find ourselves in after 30 years of disasterous rule by the incumbents.

  • James Baxter says:

    South Africa and largely other countries with the exception of Singapore and Scandinavia are mafia type of organisation. But I will confine myself to SA. Criminality in the main is a subjective value judgement. Are we as a species criminal or perpetuating a criminal act by destroying the entire planet through polution and climate change. Apartheid was a crime. The 1913 land act was a crime. But, what about the fact that apartheid through the dislocation of thousands of African males from Lesotho, from Blantyre, from Maputo, from Mpondo land, riding on a train. Choo Choo, stimela siamba ngalamahle, sivela eMalawi, but then a crime of apartheid created modern day SA, with the black diamonds, the Sandtons of this world, the Sandton boys, and the Mandela Square, where Madiba stands with open arms, embracing all the children of mother Africa in a warm embrace of nurturing masculinity and celebritization of a freedom fighter who fought for justice. But then justice turned on itself into an inverted manifestation of something akin to a techno feudalism. The feudalization of technology, the inversion of justice, the betrayal, etu Brute, beware the ides of March, etcetera etcetera. So the moral of the story is justice to you is justice denied for me and vice versa. What you deem true or fair is only your subjective value judgement founded on the internalization of reality into a selfish quest to take care of one’s subjective interests.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    To cap it all; not ONE arrest and incarceration of these appalling thieves! It beggars belief how any sane person in SA can vote for the ANC. They have systematically destroyed EVERY SINGLE ” thing” they have touched!

  • Norman Sander says:

    Why isn’t lucky Montana in jail then?
    There lies the real problem, suspicion on my part, of the justice system.

  • David Walker says:

    And how do we put pressure on those in power, Rebecca? We vote them out.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    All of those involved should be chucked in prison for life, no option of parole, no sleazy, cowardly ‘hospital wing’ treatment or early on medical grounds. They must die in prison.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Prasa and Transnet- the two transportation twins- each given a near death sentence by the ANC through its neglect, malfeasance and inept governance. Very slow steps are being taken to aid in their recovery and one wonders whether in fact that will happen , as political factors still seem largely undecided on a return to health, whatever in fact that may mean. We can only hope that the requirements of the economy will win, but given the ruling party’s priorities, that may be a mistaken cause

  • Calvin Billett says:

    I think after 30 years of seeking answers we the SA public have to come to the conclusion that the ANC condones theft by its cadres

    Inept appointments are continued on an ongoing basis and we can only conclude that the ANC want to empower not blacks but LOYALISTS and theft is okay but don’t break it completely as you then only make the cake smaller. Ace Magushula unfortunately went down the road of radical black economic empowerment and he broke the Free State and made the empowerment cake smaller. He has been moved aside but that’s the end of it.

    That folks is the ANC’s unwritten policy. Empower cadres with jobs irrespective of whether or not they are suitable but if they irreparably break what they have been entrusted with they are moved out of the way.

    When this policy will come to an end is anyone’s guess??

    Politicians have only one strength and that is to talk talk and the only reason to vote for the DA is that they believe in and promoting the Rule of Law which we desperately need. They have certainly displayed no great strength to do in Gauteng what they did in Cape Town but we certainly wish them luck.

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