Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula is under fire following yet another arson attack on Metrorail trains in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Mbalula addressed the media at Cape Town station, where two trains were set alight destroying 18 coaches at a cost of R61 million.
“The burning of trains is violent and is an attack to the poor. We must all join in and condemn the acts of damage to services that help the most vulnerable amongst us to get to work and their homes,” Mbalula said, according to his official Twitter account.
“We are under no illusion that the recent cancellation of security contracts by PRASA is a contributing element to the heightened lawlessness,” he said. “Over the last five years, 213 coaches were lost due to arson at a cost of R643 million.”
“Some of these acts of criminality are staged in order to force PRASA’s hand to continue with an arrangement that was not only found irregular by the Auditor-General and the Public Protector, but one that has exposed PRASA to inside jobs.”
Cape Town train fires a cause for serious concern
Earlier in the day GroundUp sent Mbalula questions via Twitter, giving him several hours to answer by the time the press conference started. Several of these questions were from commuter activist group #UniteBehind. Some of the questions were repeated at the press conference. These were:
- The previous Minister of Transport committed to expanding the task team investigating the arson attacks and that this task team would report back by end of August. Has the task team reported? Where is the report?
The minister didn’t answer this.
- Why does PRASA still not have a permanent board? (#UniteBehind claims that the current board expired on 31 October)
Mbalula said things take time in government but he also said that the board members are professional and doing their jobs.
- When will a safety plan for the trains be published?
Mbalula didn’t answer this.
- Why did PRASA fire security companies without alternatives in place (which resulted in lost court cases in JHB and Cape Town)?
Mbalula said it wasn’t correct of #UniteBehind to assume there wasn’t a contingency plan in place. He said there were more than 3,000 rapid rail police personnel deployed that would have taken the places of the removed companies.
- Why has PRASA not provided information on security contracts which #UniteBehind claims a court has ordered it to do?
Mbalula didn’t answer this.
- Have steps been taken to prosecute people connected to PRASA implicated in major corruption?
Mbalula said he expect arrests to be made soon. He said there used to be “untouchables” associated with state capture, but that is not the case anymore.
- Why has Cape Town’s Central Line been down for so long and why has no alternative transport been provided?
Mbalula said this was due to problems with vandalism. But he did not commit to a time when the line would be up or commit to providing alternative transport.
#UniteBehind’s Matthew Hirsch told GroundUp that Mbalula has committed to meeting the organisation in the next week. He said the organisation hopes to get answers to the above questions that the minister didn’t answer today.
“A syndicate that is sabotaging the system”
Meanwhile MEC for Transport Bonginkosi Madikizela accused PRASA of being “territorial”. He said that when he attempted to survey the damage on Thursday morning, to his surprise, PRASA refused to accompany him and grant him access to the station “despite having earlier agreed to this”.
“I find it shocking and hard to believe that people who are burning our trains cannot be arrested. This is just one of several similar incidents and the perpetrators would have been long arrested if we had proper intelligence,” said Madikizela.
“There is clearly a syndicate that is sabotaging the system. The National Department of Transport and PRASA must stop being territorial and come to the party so that we can find solutions to this problem. Since the establishment of the PRASA war room, I have been requesting without success, to have access to the war room so that I can understand the work that is being done.”
Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said he would write to President Cyril Ramaphosa to request that the Hawks be tasked with establishing a special unit to investigate the burning of Cape Town’s trains.
“Over the past three years, more than 140 train carriages, which make up over 40 train sets have been burnt in several separate incidents yet not a single person has been prosecuted. One person deemed to be mentally unfit was arrested some months ago, but other than that the SAPS detective services have failed the people of this city,” said Plato.
And Minister of Community Safety Albert Fritz said he had written to the Western Cape Police Ombudsman requesting an urgent investigation into the Western Cape SAPS “inability to resolve the deliberate attack on railway infrastructure in the Western Cape”.