The Eastern Cape's government-car graveyard

Vehicles from the Eastern Cape government’s fleet are being abandoned outside the province’s courts, office buildings and police stations because of minor defects.

Some have been parked for so long that they are covered in moss.

There are more than 100 disused vehicles parked in Mthatha’s police garage, and although some have clearly been in accidents, others have no visible damage.

City Press spoke to employees from the police and the health, public works and justice departments, who described why cars are abandoned. All refused to give their names, fearing their jobs would be jeopardised.

A driver with the department of public works in Mthatha said cars were sometimes “parked” because of small problems like a faulty speedometer.

“When a speedometer does not work, a car can still drive, but transport officers or fleet managers want us to report every little problem. We park the cars and for months, even years, they are not fixed. The next thing they go to auction,” said the driver.

A driver with the department of health alleged that sometimes fleet managers colluded with those outside government to organise cars for auction.

“When these cars are auctioned, people buy them in bulk – maybe one person buys a fleet of 10 cars. So some fleet managers are colluding with people by giving them information on the cars, and then they will buy these cars for next to nothing,” he said.

He claimed that cars with minor defects were sometimes intentionally left unattended so they would eventually be put up for auction.

At a government garage in Owen Street, Mthatha, about 30 cars – and some ambulances – have been abandoned.

Three sedans covered in moss are parked beneath the trees at the Mthatha High Court.

One is a Fiat Siena that is not visibly damaged. It has just 14?641km on the clock. Next to it is a Chevrolet Aveo LS, which has dents on its bonnet, and a Toyota Corolla with a dented front bumper.

Neither the Corolla nor the Aveo’s speedometers are visible when the cars’ engines aren’t running. They’re parked on a paved surface – and have been there for so long that there’s grass growing beneath them.

They all belong to the department of justice and constitutional development.

“It’s such a shame because there are only minor things wrong with these cars,” said an official from the department.

“The bodies of the cars look fresh, but soon they decay in front of these buildings until they lose value. It’s the same thing in other court buildings around the region,” he added.

Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesperson for the national justice department, said: “It is correct that unserviceable official vehicles are parked in the justice office premises throughout the region.”

He said most of these had been involved in crashes and were beyond repair. Others, because of their age and the costs involved in fixing them, had proved to be “uneconomical to repair”.

Mhaga said officials were negotiating with the department of transport to help auction off these cars. Fleet Africa, which used to run the government garage, is no longer contracted to do so.

Mhaga said the vehicles could only be moved once their auction venues were confirmed.

He conceded that the department didn’t have enough money to buy all the cars its officials needed.

Meanwhile, at Mthatha’s police garage, disused vans, sedans, Nyalas, kombis, VW Golfs and bakkies line the parking garage – and have spilt into outside lots.

Some are not visibly damaged. Drivers told City Press that some police officers and members of the public helped themselves to spare parts from the abandoned vehicles.

The police have denied this.

Lieutenant Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela, spokesperson for the police in Mthatha, said: “Anyone who has such information must contact the police because taking parts from a state vehicle is a serious crime, and it is theft and punishable by law. We have not heard of a police officer taking parts from these vehicles.”

He conceded that it was “unacceptable” for vehicles to stay in police garages for extended periods.

When a police car has a problem, a “298 form” must be filled out to indicate what was wrong. Fatyela said some police and drivers fill in forms incorrectly or not at all, so cars take longer to get fixed.

“But there are other factors. Sometimes it is because some of these cars are awaiting spare parts. For instance, we have just changed from ordering our spares from Auto Zone to using Midas, which might explain some of the delays,” he said.

“We are saying it can’t be acceptable that you have all these vehicles here doing nothing. We have also called on our mechanics to work faster.”

Eastern Cape transport spokesperson Ncedo Kumbaca said it was forbidden for non-working vehicles to be parked outside government buildings.

Instead, Kumbaca said, they must be sent immediately to government garages and repaired or put up for auction.

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