Court orders Prasa to create safety plan for railway security

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(Photo: Thapelo Maphakela)
(Photo: Thapelo Maphakela)

Three security companies have won a court application against the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in which they argued that the early termination of their contracts, without the finalisation of an alternative contract, put passenger safety at risk, GroundUp has reported.

In terms of the court's order, Prasa must continue the security contracts until the new tender is finalised or alternative measures are put in place, including an interim security plan within a month.

Lobby group #UniteBehind joined the three applicants – Sechaba Protection Services Western Cape, High Goals Investments CC t/a Chuma Security Services, and Supreme Security Services CC – as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the Western Cape High Court case.

Earlier, it released a media statement saying: "Prasa recently dismissed the private security companies that provide almost 1 000 guards in Cape Town, and 2 000 more nationally, without new contracts or guards in place to take over their duties. The security companies have been operating on irregular contracts without due regard for performance, but this rash move only serves to leave our rail system vulnerable to further attack and degradation."

The statement said "poor governance, maladministration and corruption lies at the heart of the collapse of service at Prasa".

A 2019 Railway Safety Regulator Report noted that there were "9 268 security-related incidents" this year – up 20% from last year. It also reported 30 fatalities and 584 injuries due to security-related occurrences.

In the court application, #UniteBehind 's advocate, Naefa Kahn, submitted that the new tender should be finalised within the month and that an interim safety and security plan should be put in place.

Advocate Adiel Nacerodien, on behalf of the applicants, argued that Prasa had breached its obligations to provide reasonable measures of security, and noted that the "festive season approaching will further the strain" on existing railway security.

But Prasa's advocate Donald Jacobs responded that this case was "merely a contractual issue."

Judge President John Hlophe dismissed Jacobs' argument, saying: "The problem is there is no provision for the interim to protect the thousands of commuters every day."

He asked Jacobs to clarify whether security was present at the railways despite the termination of the contracts.

Jacobs listed several units that were being utilised, to which Hlophe replied: "I've never heard of these. Are they real?"

He asked why no commander of a unit was present to clarify how many guards were in place and where they are specifically located.

"The security is woefully inadequate and there's no denying this fact," said Hlophe. "Your clients knew this contract would end in October, and by not finding something else before this, they allowed an unnecessary gap."

Judge Hlophe swiftly ruled in favour of the applicants.

"Essentially, what we've won is a plan that sets out what needs to be done," #UniteBehind's Zackie Achmat commented after the ruling.

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