Signal cables alongside Metrorail’s central line in Cape Town were systematically cut few days ago in 25 places, disabling services to Khayelitsha, Philippi, Nyanga and Mitchell’s Plain.
According to the Democratic Alliance, his incident marked one of the biggest acts of sabotage ever committed on South Africa’s public transport infrastructure.
Before repairs could be completed, at least four further signal cables were again destroyed by early Friday morning, before a single train had even passed, the DA further said.
Altogether 11 stations were closed and 15 trains were taken off the tracks as Metrorail scrambled to find buses to ferry stranded passengers.
From the brazen, precise and widespread nature of the cable damage, it is clear that whoever is behind this, planned it well, wanted to cause mayhem and stands to benefit from it.
It has all the hallmarks of the “ungovernability” campaign that has been waged against the provincial and municipal government for three years. We anticipate such acts to escalate in the run-up to the 2016 municipal elections.
The saboteurs got what they wanted: massive public disruption and dissatisfaction. Commuters’ tempers frayed, people were stranded at stations, and some only got back home well into the night. Job seekers could not travel and employees are receiving notices to attend disciplinary hearings.
And then you still need to add the big cost: the loss of productivity.
Metrorail’s central line is the busiest route in Cape Town. Tens of thousands of commuters use it every morning and every evening. Hundreds of business in the City depend on employees making it to work on time. Many are small enterprises with very little margin for productivity loss.
The Western Cape Chamber of Commerce has described the impact of this incident as “catastrophic”. Metrorail said this week that cable damage has cost them R382 million over the past three years.
While cable theft is not unique to Cape Town, deliberate sabotage is a new and extremely dangerous phenomenon in our democracy that poses a danger to our economy and political stability.
It has become so bad that the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is even considering shutting down Cape Town’s central line altogether, along with possibly the Vereeniging line in Gauteng. This will be absolutely devastating for the communities who rely on these train services to get to work and back.
Currently, the trade in copper is only controlled by the flimsy Second-Hand Goods Act. It is enforced by the SAPS alone and requires the purchaser to keep records. This is honoured more in the breach than the execution.