The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is embarking on a mission to end the theft and vandalism of rail infrastructure across the country.
Yesterday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula launched the integrated security plan for Prasa which will result in 3,100 security guards being employed directly by Prasa instead of private companies.
The plan was developed with the police, State Security Agency, crime intelligence, department of justice and the National Prosecuting Authority. According to Mbalula, it is anchored in intelligence gathering, analysis, co-ordination and combat aggression.
He said the plan is not only about policing rail infrastructure but also cracking the syndicates that are involved in the crime.
Unpacking the plan at Rhodesfield Gautrain station, Mbalula said the vandalism of rail infrastructure has left thousands of commuters stranded.
“In our own research of what is happening here, we now know that the copper cables are melted in laboratories in our townships and they are exported via Mozambique to the Asian market. That is big money for these syndicates.
“Our resolve to turn the tide and throw the book at these criminals has never been greater. We are equal to the challenge and confident that we will turn the tide as we take the war to these criminals. Today is that beginning of that journey. It is not going to have a positive multiplying effect immediately but in the long term, you will see,” Mbalula said.
In the past, Prasa held contracts with security firms. But these were terminated at the beginning of the national lockdown after the auditor-general and the public protector found the contracts to be irregular.
Gauteng is one of the provinces that was hard hit as even the rail tracks were stolen in some of the corridors.
The damage to rail infrastructure at Prasa is currently estimated at R4bn.
Mbalula lamented the previous set-up of having contracted security guards, as thieves helped themselves to infrastructure while they were present. He said Prasa had no direct control over the profile of the people deployed across its rail infrastructure and their performance on the job.
“We’ve got people now who are directly accountable to our watch. We will be in a position to monitor these people, their capabilities and also marshal them into action. We have been working tirelessly with our law enforcement developing a seamless, integrated response to this challenge … There will be no mercy for criminals who think they can continue stealing and vandalizing public assets with impunity,” Mbalula said.
He said the plan was implemented last month and is starting to yield results, with Prasa employees among those caught.
“There are a lot of rotten apples in the system but there is a lot of goodwill. In August, the South African police and Prasa protection services arrested six men in possession of copper cables and signalling equipment worth over R5.5m … When we went to Heidelberg we found a lab working with people who are working with Prasa and they were melting these copper cables and exporting them out of the country,” Mbalula said.
After the launch, Mbalula joined his protection officers in a raid at one of the scrap metal business in Kempton Park. Police arrested the owner of the business after finding rail infrastructure piled in a shack behind his house.
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