Mbalula under fire following train arson

Eighteen coaches “gutted” at Cape Town station at a cost of over R60 million

Photo of four men at a table

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula held a press briefing at Cape Town station on Thursday. Photo: Karabo Mafolo

By GroundUp Staff and Karabo Mafolo

28 November 2019

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.”

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:

#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.

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”.