Still a long way to finding culprits of train arson

According to Metrorail 150 coaches were lost to arson from January to July. Photo supplied.

Government officials used a transport imbizo held in Khayelitsha at the weekend to shift responsibility for catching the culprits of train arson to communities.

The Minister of Transport and his Western Cape counterpart have shifted the responsibility for the burning of trains to commuters by stressing the need for them to come forward with information implicating the culprits. Blade Nzimande and Donald Grant were speaking at a transport imbizo held in Khayelitsha recently.  According to Metrorail, there were 32 coaches that were damaged by fire in the month of July.

“The burning of trains is a national priority and the security cluster is working hard to get to the bottom of the problem. We want the communities to take up this issue seriously as it affects them directly. We have realised that unless we partner with communities we will not win this fight,” said Blade Nzimande as he addressed the media outside of the marquee at Mandela Park Athletics Stadium.

Pressed by Elitsha for an answer on what the police and especially the crime intelligence unit are doing, the minister could only reiterate the need for the community to come forward with information. In a separate interview, the MEC for Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape, Donald Grant, also raised the reliance of the authorities on communities for information on who is burning the trains. No one has been convicted yet even though some of the arson attacks took place in Cape Town Central Station.

There have also been no convictions for the taxi violence in the city that claimed the lives of 13 people in one weekend in May this year.

“We are looking to change the law and be hard on those who burn the trains. They must face [charges of] arson attack [because] right now burning a train does not constitute arson,” said Nzimande. He also told the crowd of about 700 people attending the transport imbizo that he has confidence in the board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and their turnaround plan. Earlier this month, PRASA presented a plan to Parliament to deal with issues facing Metrorail in the Western Cape, including train arson and an ailing infrastructure and cable theft.

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According to PRASA, Metrorail in the Western Cape is running with less than 40 trains sets when it is supposed to optimally run with 88. Earlier this month, #UniteBehind launched a campaign for the extension of monthly tickets to two months due to train delays and cancellations.

Community engagement

Community members attending the transport imbizo engaged the government officials on the issues that affect them on daily basis, including train delays and cancellations. Taxi drivers too raised issues affecting their work.

Bulelwa Ngcaba from Africa Road Safety Academy complained about roads in Khayelitsha not being clearly marked, making it difficult for pedestrians to find their way. A resident from Delft, Bongani Makwenkwe, raised an issue of not having a train station in the township. “The buses are not enough and they are expensive,” he said.

Some of the striking MyCiti bus project workers used the platform to call on the Minister of Transport to intervene. Dalton Ndongeni from Public Transport Voice raised the issue of safety at Nolungile and Nonkqubela train stations in Cape Town.

Promise to turn things around

PRASA Group Chief Executive Officer, Sibusiso Sithole, told those who were at the imbizo that they would see a big improvement by the next financial year. Sithole was appointed to the position in June this year. “We are also looking internally to see who is behind the burning of the trains,” he said. He said that they are looking at ways of rewarding those who come forward with information on the burning of trains.

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Nzimande urged the community to build transport forums so that they can work together with government to bring about quality public transport.

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