Voice of the Cape

From the news desk

Cape Town train arson a symptom of an ailing Prasa and national railway system

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The crisis in public transport and the South African railway system will remain unsolved unless stability and good leadership are introduced to the state-owned enterprise Prasa, according to Unite Behind. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has experienced numerous public embarrassments over the years, arguably as a result of mismanagement, poor leadership, instability and unprofessionalism. The recent arson of trains in Cape Town have once again brought Prasa into the spotlight.

Two train sets were set alight during the early hours of Thursday morning at the Cape Town train station. The damage was severe with 18 coaches damaged at an estimated value of R61 million. According to a tweet by Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, “Over the last 5 years, 213 coaches were lost due to arson at a cost of R643 million.”

Mmeli Dube, an organiser at Unite Behind, said the latest attack on trains in Cape Town “is not isolated, in our view, from the recent fiasco of handling security contracts at Prasa.”

“We have seen other acts of vandalism in other areas such as Johannesburg…We see it as a [consequence of] mismanagement of Prasa in general,” said Dube.

“We need to be worried about the way Prasa does things – you can’t cut corners and be abrupt. They need to not leave a gap in the security system of Prasa… You can’t take out the number of people manning your security and not replace it with a clear plan and then still hope things will remain in your favour.”

Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said he would be writing to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting that the Hawks be tasked with establishing a special unit to investigate the burning of trains in Cape Town. In addition, the MEC of Community Safety, Albert Fritz, has written to Western Cape Police Ombudsman, JJ Brand, also asking for an investigation into the Western Cape SAPS inability to resolve the deliberate attack on railway infrastructure in the Western Cape.

“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 South African Police Services (SAPS) detective services have failed the people of this city,” said Plato.

“Our rail service is a shadow of its former self and as hundreds of thousands of former rail commuters abandon the trains, we see our roads clog up with more cars, buses and taxis. PRASA, Metrorail and SAPS need to get their house in order. We cannot continue to allow their failures to impact the residents of this city.  If those managing the rail service do not want to run the railway, then hand it over to those who have shown they can govern effectively. Our residents deserve better.”

Earlier in November thousands of security guards were left unemployed when Prasa terminated its contracts with security companies, saying that they were not receiving any significant benefit from the arrangements.

According to reports by IOL, crime and cable theft continued to plague the SOE despite their employing the services of private security companies and the acting CEO declared that the contracts had been appointed irregularly in any case.

Dube says there’s a “huge failure of leadership” at Prasa, leaving the SOE’s infrastructure and commuters at a “huge risk”.  He also believes that there’s no solving the crisis in the South African railway system without solving the governance and management problem at Prasa. Dube indicated that he worries about the stability and leadership of the SOE.

“Leadership wise there’s a gross, gross, gross failure [and] commuters have been failed grossly by the government.”

Dube suggested that the national rail system be declared a disaster by government and that government should then subsequently come up with an appropriate plan with all spheres of government and all actors who are supposed to respond included in the planning. He then insisted that Prasa needs to appoint a competent board with competent professionals to provide stability to the SOE.

VOC


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