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Arsonists blamed for torching of 214 trains in SA over past three years

Two trains went up in flames at Cape Town station on July 21 2018. A fire in one train spread to the train alongside it.
Two trains went up in flames at Cape Town station on July 21 2018. A fire in one train spread to the train alongside it.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

A whopping 214 trains were burnt in suspected arson attacks in South Africa in the past three years, with 174 of them torched in the Western Cape.

Transport minister Blade Nzimande's response to a parliamentary question revealed that most cases of arson took place in 2016 when 69 coaches were burnt, compared to 65 in 2018 and 41 in 2017.

The Western Cape accounted for 56 of the 65 coaches burnt in 2018, with eight incidents taking place in Gauteng and one in KwaZulu-Natal.

Nzimande was responding to a written question from the EFF's Thilivali Mulaudzi who wanted to know the number of passenger trains that were burnt in each of the past five years and the location of each incident.

Nzimande said the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) started collecting detailed information about train arson attacks only in 2015. "Prior to 2015 limited train burnings occurred due to arson and were classified under general vandalism," he said.

Of the 174 coaches burnt in the Western Cape since 2015, 60 were burnt in Cape Town, 23 in Kraaifontein, 16 in Retreat and the rest at stations across the province - but mainly within the Cape Town metropole.

Eight trains were burnt in Gauteng in 2018, down from the nine burnt in 2017 and 11 in 2016, while only four such incidents took place in KwaZulu-Natal over the past three years, at KwaMashu and Umlazi stations.

The Vereeniging line, Germiston/Springs and Pretoria and Pretoria North stations were the most affected in Gauteng.

During a meeting to discuss a strategy to deal with the burning of trains, Prasa chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama told the National Assembly's transport portfolio committee that many former Prasa service managers were disgruntled and were sabotaging the system to work against its executive. The meeting was held in October 2018 in parliament.

According to the parliamentary monitoring group, which records meetings in parliament, Kweyama likened the train arson attacks to "a national security threat," and urged the state security agency to intervene and assist with intelligence gathering, investigation and identifying the threat.

At the same meeting, Prasa revealed that a loss of nearly R636m had been incurred due to train fires in the past three-and-a-half years, with the Western Cape contributing 71% or R451.6m to these losses. This excluded damage to Cape Town Station of R150m, the agency said.

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