The vandalism of the Eminyezaneni school. Photo: Holly Charlton / News24
Due to a drastic increase in cases of theft and vandalism on the rail network and school infrastructure, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Thursday afternoon that the government had instructed the police to intensify their efforts to fight illegal cable syndicates and ensure that service delivery protests do not end in malicious damage to property.
“We work … alongside entities like Prasa [the Passenger Rail Agency of SA] to find illegal cable unions and scrap metal dealers in possession of stolen materials.
The success of these efforts depends on partnering with communities, as we all have a responsibility to take care of our infrastructure. Thanks to these efforts, we hope to be able to restore our infrastructure to good health.
Ramaphosa made the announcement while responding to questions from the National Council of Provinces, where it was asked whether the government has undertaken an audit to assess how the theft and damage to infrastructure during the lockdown has cost the country, and whether there had been a plan to restore or repair the vandalized infrastructure.
He said reports from the Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure painted a disturbing picture that highlighted severe damage to public infrastructure in areas such as Kimberly, Gqeberha and Hout Bay.
Reports from the Ministry 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 most affected .
He said Metrorail has seen an alarming increase in theft and vandalism of infrastructure, including overhead power lines, power substations, train stations and depot substations in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
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“Theft incidents have a huge impact on the mobility of commuters, who depend on affordable Metrorail services to access economic opportunities in major urban areas,” said Ramaphosa.
As a result, many train commuters have no choice but to travel on more expensive modes of transport.
“Public infrastructure is vital for the lives and livelihoods of South Africans. It is vital for advancing the interests of our people and also helps the country to achieve its development goals. “
During last year’s harsh shutdown, thieves descended on various stations in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town, stealing infrastructure including power cables, rail tracks, handrails, doors, windows and stair railings.
Last month, the Ministry of Transport revealed that Kliptown station in Soweto was the most affected by looting, while several train routes including Johannesburg-Vereeniging, Johannesburg-Naledi, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Johannesburg -Westonaria and Johannesburg- Randfontein, were also seriously affected.
About 80% of Prasa’s fleet has been vandalized. The Transport Department said it would cost South Africa R1.9 billion to repair the infrastructure.
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Service delivery protests during the lockdown also saw targeted theft and vandalism against schools, leaving around 25,099 learners without a place at the start of the 2021 school year.
The basic education department revealed last year that 1,718 schools across the country had been the victims of break-ins and vandalism.
Ramaphosa also warned citizens against voicing their frustrations over the infrastructure that is supposed 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 for them to attack public infrastructure and prevent other people from getting services from that public infrastructure … “
He said Metrorail and the Ministry of Basic Education had started repairing schools and replacing essential rail infrastructure, including projects to rehabilitate railroads, rehabilitate electrical infrastructure, wall railroads, construction and repair of pedestrian bridges, improvement of stations and automation of signaling infrastructure.