Due to a drastic increase in cases of rail network and school infrastructure theft and vandalism, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday afternoon announced that government had instructed law enforcement agencies to intensify efforts of dealing with illicit cable syndicates and ensuring that service delivery protests do not end in acts of malicious damage to property.
“We are working ... alongside entities such as Prasa [the Passenger Rail Agency of SA] to uncover illicit cable syndicates and scrap metal dealers in possession of stolen materials.”
Ramaphosa made the announcement while responding to questions in the National Council of Provinces, where he was asked whether government had undertaken an audit to assess the extent to which theft and damage to infrastructure during the lockdown period had cost the country, and if there was a plan to restore or repair the vandalised infrastructure.
He said reports from the department of public works and infrastructure painted a troubling picture that highlighted severe damage to public infrastructure in areas including Kimberly, Gqeberha and Hout Bay.
Reports from the department of basic education, revealed that “more than 1 700 schools across the country were affected by vandalism” last year, with KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape being the worst affected.
He said Metrorail experienced an alarming increase in the theft and vandalism of infrastructure including overhead electrical lines, electrical substations, train stations and depot substations in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Incidents of theft have a huge impact in the mobility of commuters, who depend on affordable Metrorail services to access economic opportunities in major urban areas,” said Ramaphosa.
Many train commuters have since been left with no choice but to travel on more expensive modes of transport as a result.
“Public infrastructure is vital to the lives and livelihoods of South Africans. It is vital to advancing the interests of our people and also helps the country achieve its developmental goals.”
During the hard lockdown last year, thieves descended on various railway stations in cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town, stealing infrastructure including electric cables, train tracks, handrails, doors, windows and staircase railings.
Last month, the transport ministry revealed that Kliptown Train Station in Soweto bore most of the brunt of the looting, while several train routes, including Johannesburg-Vereeniging, Johannesburg-Naledi, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Johannesburg-Westonaria and Johannesburg-Randfontein, were also severely affected.
About 80% of Prasa’s fleet was vandalised. The transport ministry said it would cost South Africa R1.9 billion to repair the infrastructure.
Service delivery protests during lockdown also saw acts of theft and vandalism being targeted towards schools, leaving about 25 099 learners unplaced at the beginning of the 2021 school year.
The department of basic education revealed last year that 1 718 schools across the country had fallen victim to burglaries and vandalism.
Ramaphosa also cautioned citizens against taking out their frustrations on infrastructure that is meant to serve them.
“Damaged infrastructure is a crime against the people of our country. [Even if] people get angry and frustrated, there is no reason they should attack public infrastructure and prevent other people from getting service from that public infrastructure...”
He said Metrorail and the department of basic education had started to repair schools and replace critical rail infrastructure, including projects to rehabilitate railway tracks, reinstate electricity infrastructure, wall off rail lines, build and repair pedestrian bridges, perform station improvements and automate signalling infrastructure.