Dan Plato: Police intelligence vacuum fuels train fires

2019-12-04 00:30

After three years of vicious arson on the rail system, there has been no prosecution. Meanwhile residents suffer, writes Dan Plato

‘A train pulling into Cape Town Station’s Platform 6 at 7.40pm on Tuesday did so with several carriages already on fire.”

This is not the opening scene of another Deon Meyer detective novel; it is the opening line of a news article that appeared in local newspapers earlier this year.

No one was arrested for that incident. Five months later and there has been no progress.

Over the past three years, more than 140 train carriages, which make up more than 40 train sets, have been burnt in separate incidents and not a single person has been prosecuted for this blatant economic sabotage.

On Thursday, 18 more train carriages were burnt at Cape Town Railway Station, leaving thousands of commuters stranded and unable to get to work, school, doctors’ appointments, job interviews and more.

It has become untenable for the current allocation of responsibilities between national, provincial and local government to continue unchecked.

The political bias displayed by what should be apolitical government employees is bringing this country to its knees and it needs to stop.

It cannot be incompetence alone that there have been zero consequences for 140 train carriages being burnt.

Cape Town is being hamstrung from providing even better services and job creation opportunities for residents by the limitations placed on us by national government.

Where we have operational control over services, things work; where we don’t, such as policing and most public transport, the residents are left stranded.

With more than 140 carriages destroyed in the past three years, the capacity of the commuter rail network – the backbone of any functional and growing economy – has been halved in number and broken in the more functional sense.

Read: SA lacks high-speed transport. Monorails could put us on track for the future

While we have started the lengthy process to try to take over the management of the rail service from the Passenger Rail Agency of SA by appointing a multidisciplinary team of rail professionals, who have assisted our transport directorate with putting together a high-level business plan, we now need action from national government.

If it doesn’t act now there will be nothing left to manage in the coming years.

The police have failed outright in investigating the burning of trains.

They only arrested one person earlier this year, who has now been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.

He is clearly not the mastermind behind this orchestrated state sabotage.

Internal leadership battles at Metrorail, gangsters, political sabotage, the taxi industry – these are some of the theories that abound in the absence of the police making any headway in investigations as trains are burnt right under Metrorail’s nose again and again.

President Cyril Ramaphosa tried to travel on a train before the elections to show how well public transport works under the ANC.

Instead he was stranded for three hours because of the collapsing rail service.

Residents have had enough of their livelihoods being put at risk by a failing rail service and have organised themselves to make their voices heard.

The demands of the thousands of rail commuters who are left stranded daily were put in a letter to the president in recent months.

In its letter, #UniteBehind highlighted the #FixOurTrains campaign, which started in 2017 to remedy the crisis experienced by train commuters daily in the Western Cape.

Over the past three years, more than 140 train carriages, which make up more than 40 train sets, have been burnt in separate incidents and not a single person has been prosecuted for this blatant economic sabotage.

The group believes that the attacks have been orchestrated to cripple the city’s public transport system, saying: “These are not random acts of violence, but a concerted effort against Cape Town’s public transport system and, by extension, our economy.

“Our city and around half a million rail commuters are under attack.”

Richard Walker, Metrorail’s regional manager, was quoted in August last year, after dozens of trains had already been burnt, as saying it was still “too premature to speculate” on the reasons for the attacks, but saying the fires appeared to have been “deliberately set”.

Three years of your house burning down and it’s still too early to speculate?

In any functional policing environment, the perpetrators would have been caught long ago and thrown in jail, and the management of the service would have long been fired.

Ramaphosa might have his hands full trying to clean up the ANC’s mess, but if he doesn’t pay attention to the disastrous police’s crime intelligence division there will be no house left to clean.

The inability of police to do their job is costing our residents their livelihoods.

They are unable to get to work, attend job interviews, or go to school and university on the cheapest and what should be the most accessible mode of transport.

Cape Town deserves better, and we will always fight for our residents to live safe, healthy and prosperous lives.

Plato is mayor of Cape Town

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December 8 2019