Minister Grant Addresses the National Council of Provinces
Working Together To Put an End to Vandalism, Destruction and Theft of Service Delivery Infrastructure in South Africa
- Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
- Honourable members
- Distinguished guests
It will come as no surprise to this house if, in my capacity as Minister of Transport in the Western Cape, the focus of my contribution is the impact of vandalism on aspects of public transport largely in this province. In this regard there is surely no need to remind this House of the extent to which – given South Africa’s extensive history of apartheid spatial planning – hundreds of thousands of people are still faced daily with daunting distances to cover to work and back in order to be able to participate in the economy.
In the public transport space, the incapacitation of any one of the modes of transport available – rail, bus and taxi – places huge pressures on the others – pressures which result in significant losses to the economy, disruption to families and sometimes violence.
On July 30 this year, Metrorail infrastructure experienced vicious attacks by criminals who had deliberately set out to sabotage the service. Their deplorable actions at the time adversely affected the train service between Nyanga and Khayelitsha/Chris Hani and Kapteinsklip/Mitchells Plain. These vandals left tens of thousands of commuters without their usual means of getting to their various destinations. We immediately came together as public transport stakeholders in condemning such acts and worked in unison to lessen the already disastrous effects that these acts had on commuters.
Metrorail made available R2.5 million repair upon inspection, deployed buses to affected areas, and issued a R50 000 reward for bringing these criminals to justice. Golden Arrow Bus Services, MyCiti and the mini-bus taxi industry also came out in full support and did all they could to ensure that commuters got to work and arrived safely home.
More recently, Metrorail’s ability to deliver on its essential mandate was once again threatened when a suspected arsonist damaged nineteen carriages, causing millions of rands in damage. A total of 35 carriages in eight incidents have either been lost or damaged as a result of fire/arson in 2014 alone.
These acts – which have been described as deliberate sabotage - are acts against the state by criminal elements behaving with impunity. Actions such as these must carry severe consequences that send a clear message to the perpetrators that we, as South Africans, will not tolerate such a direct threat to the livelihoods of ordinary citizens who rely heavily on public transport to provide a decent life for themselves and their children. The thousands of rail commuters in this province cannot continue to be held ransom by the actions of a few criminals who have a brazen disregard for the law and the needs of others. The perpetrators of these crimes must face the full might of the law and we continue to support the SAPS' efforts to ensure that this happens.
Nationally, this type of vandalism presents a bleak picture. According to PRASA Rail CEO, Mosenngwa Mofi, the company has paid out over R382 million over the past three years as a result of theft and vandalism nationally, with the more recent arson attacks set to push this number well over R400 million. This amount includes direct replacement costs as well as indirect costs such as provision of alternative transportation and increased insurance premiums.
These are amounts that should be directed at service improvement, the purchase of more much needed train sets, and better on-board security for commuters.
My department continues to work closely with Metrorail on a number of issues relating to their service, and has provided funding to support their efforts in addressing security issues at some of their stations though our R4 million scramblers and high mast lighting project. This project saw the deployment of 25 scrambler bikes and 12 high mast lights at priority areas and stations, all in a bid to improve security and to assist Metrorail to protect their crucial assets better. This investment has increased the Tactical Cable Theft Intervention Unit’s capacity to respond to threats at identified hotspots. We will continue to provide such assistance where possible, in keeping with our objective to provide safe and reliable public transport in this province.
The high securitisation of Metrorail’s key corridors and depots with fencing, alarms and CCTV surveillance is now imminent, and accounts for a large portion of the R483 million allocated over the next two years to implement a comprehensive asset protection programme. This will undoubtedly go a long way in protecting the assets that allow Metrorail to carry out their key passenger transportation function
The frequency of these incidents, the escalating costs, and the disastrous impact that they have on the economy cannot be tackled by Metrorail alone. Vandalism and theft of state assets have become a pressing societal issue that requires urgent intervention by government and communities, decisive action in investigation and apprehending by the SAPS, followed by deterring consequences being imposed by our criminal justice system. These elements of criminality must not be allowed to flourish unchecked; we, as a country, simply cannot afford it.
We must send a clear message to these criminal elements that crime in general, and particularly of this nature, does not pay. We must treat acts of vandalism and theft of delivery infrastructure with the vigour that they deserve. We must continue to see arrests for reported incidents so as to deter others in the wake of what is now a crisis.
Urgent steps must also be taken by Metrorail to decrease their vulnerability to the crippling vandalism and theft. Smarter security interventions must be implemented to protect their most critical assets, like signal cables, train sets, and depot yards. It is unthinkable that the acts of a select few can be allowed to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of people. It is incumbent upon us all to act, and to act now.