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Madikizela pleads for co-operation to 'catch syndicate behind Cape train arson attacks'

Published Nov 28, 2019

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Cape Town – Western Cape Transport and Public Works MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela has pleaded for co-operation with all stakeholders, especially on a national government level, to finally put a stop to the train arson attacks crippling the service in the Western Cape.

On Thursday, at a briefing after yet another fire at Cape Town station in the early hours today, Madikizela said he believes there is a syndicate behind the arson attacks since last year and cannot comprehend that they still haven't been caught.

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When quizzed if there was a strategy to make the Western Cape ungovernable, Madikizela said he didn't want to speculate, but found it "ironic" and "strange" that the series of train arson attacks "seems to be happening in the Western Cape only… One almost believes this statement when you hear these things".

He also questioned the timing of the latest attack, just when new trains were about to come on board to improve the service – after "losing 38% of passengers over the last few few years". 

The MEC also bemoaned the fact there is "no intelligence whatsover across the province" assisting in the arrest of suspects and that "the work the police is doing leaves much to be desired". 

He was perplexed that no one had spotted via CCTV or any other means anyone setting the trains alight. 

The City's Fire and Rescue Service were called to respond to the blaze on platforms 10 and 16.at 2.20am today. The fire soon spread to adjacent platforms, destroying two full train sets comprising 18 carriages and was extinguished at 4.53am. 

Metrorail has lifted the temporary suspension of all train services in the Western Cape after a fire at Cape Town station on Thursday morning – but only a limited service will apply.

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The temporary suspension of all train services was lifted before 8am and a limited service will apply. 

"I have been on the phone this morning with various stakeholders because I still cannot believe that we cannot catch the people who are doing this. Obviously, this is a syndicate. There is no way people who are doing these things are not known. 

"This is my third visit to Cape Town train station since I was appointed in May this year. Surely we need intelligence to help us. 

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"But the second thing that we need, we really need co-operation between the provincial and national government. For us to be territorial about this is not going to help us.

"From day one when I was appointed, I made it very clear that even though provincial government doesn’t have operational control, I want to work very closely with the national minister and the national department so that we can really deal with this. 

"One of the things that are frustrating for me is that that co-operation is really not forthcoming. Since this morning, I have been here with my deputy," said Madikizela, who later said they had campaigned in the May elections for the Western Cape to take over the running of the train service.  

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"There has been communication with Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa), but when I arrived I was told nobody from Prasa was here because for some reason they are waiting for the national minister.

Picture: Henk Kruger / African News Agency (ANA)

"I don't see anything wrong with the national minister coming here because he is the one who was operational control over this. But I cannot put my problem on hold until whatever time the national minister will be here, and (not) come and see for myself.

"Even though it’s the national government who has control over this, the people of the Western Cape are the ones who are affected and they want answers from me.

"Because quite frankly people do no understand, they do not care who has operational control. They don’t understand this issue of jurisdiction between different spheres of government. They just want answers from government officials.

"I am doing everything I can with my limited powers to work with the national government, to work with Prasa, so that we can really provide answers to the people who are affected. That is what we need to do. 

"Immediately after this media briefing, I want to make a visit inside (the station), but obviously I need Prasa to be here so I get a briefing about what is happening. We really need to make sure that we get to the bottom of this.

"The national department of transport, my department, Prasa, the City of Cape Town, the law enforcement agencies, all of us must work together because these things have been ongoing for some time.

Picture: Henk Kruger / African News Agency (ANA)

"We were expecting, of course, new trains to come on board now because this thing has been ongoing for some time. We have lost 38% of the passengers over the last few years.

"It is very clear that there is a syndicate here. People know that new trains are coming and then something like this happens.

"Surely if we have effective law enforcement agencies and intelligence, we would have got these people a long time ago and cut the umbilical cord of these people so that we can make sure our passengers are not affected by this.

"Immediately after this, I will be requesting a meeting so that all of the stakeholders can put our heads together and find a solution. It doesn't matter who has operational control, all of us need to find a solution to this.

"One of the things my department did with the City of Cape Town, in partnership with the national department, we put together this rail enforcement unit and that is one aspect we are trying to assist with to ensure we deal with this.

"But over and above that, you need railway police and you need to make sure that there is intelligence that must stop this thing. But you also need to improve the infrastructure. 

"That can only happen if there is very close co-operation between both spheres of government. It’s not going to help me to keep on blaming national government, that’s not my intention, because that’s not helping the citizens of the Western Cape who are affected.

"Blaming each other is not a solution. What we need to do is make sure we work together and I am going to push for that and make sure that those who are territorial understand that this affects all of us."

Asked what the motive behind the attacks was, Madikizela said: "There is a motive, but one thing I won't do is speculate. Because we expect the law enforcement agencies to do their work and tell us who is behind this. 

"You cannot have a situation where this thing happens all of the time. It is dangerous to speculate. We need a proper investigation to find out who is doing this."

Commenting on where the Rail Enforcement Unit were at the time of today's attack, Madikizela said: They are spread across but they are focusing more on the Northern line and these (attack) happened on the Central line. If we believe the personnel we have in terms of the Rail Enforcement Unit is not enough, then it's one of the conversations we need to have with Prasa and the national department.

"If you have CCTV and cameras and you are able to identify the perpetrators, why haven't we caught them. These are questions that are really surprising. I cannot believe the intelligence (units) don't know who is behind this."

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said he would be visiting Cape Town station at lunchtime time today to assess the extent of the damage.

Cape Times

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