Train arson suspect in court on Wednesday

Western Cape has increased its available train sets from 39 in December 2018 to 56 currently

Photo of train burning

A train burns in June 2017 at Cape Town train station. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

By Barbara Maregele, Kristine Liao and Tariro Washinyira

23 April 2019

A suspect arrested for the most recent torching of train carriages in Cape Town is due in court on Wednesday, police said.

The accused, whose name is known to GroundUp and who is understood to be from Khayelitsha, will be appearing on charges of malicious damage to property. The man was arrested near the scene of the crime at Cape Town Station on Sunday after quick-thinking officials spotted him on CCTV footage.

On Monday, Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande in a statement called on law enforcement agencies to conduct a full investigation behind “sinister forces who are determined to undermine the effort of the ruling party in transforming rail passenger travel”.

PRASA, in a statement on Tuesday, confirmed that initial investigations pointed to deliberate arson.

About a dozen carriages on two train sets as well as platforms at Cape Town Station were destroyed by the fire on Sunday. PRASA said the damage was estimated to be about R33 million.

PRASA Group CEO Nkosinathi Sishi said: “We truly hope that his arrest will lead us to the actual forces that are behind what has been a sustained attack and destruction of the country’s assets, particularly the only mode of transport that is affordable to the majority of our people.”

Sishi said the incident came at a time when the Western Cape had increased its available train sets from 39 in December 2018 to the current 56 trains.

In a statement welcoming the arrest of a suspect, Cape Town mayor Dan Plato said more than 40 carriages had been burnt in 10 incidents of arson attacks since 2017. Cape Town Central Station had been the target of eight separate arson incidents alone since July 2018.

Plato said he would invite Western Cape Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula and the PRASA and Metrorail management teams to a meeting.

When GroundUp visited the station on Tuesday morning, red and white tape cordoned off some of the platforms, causing several delays and cancellations. The smell of charred iron and smoke still filled the station where dozens of commuters were making their way to work.

It is still unclear whether the trains were delayed because certain platforms were closed or as a result of the ongoing deterioration of the rail services experienced by commuters daily.

When our reporter approached staff, they refused to talk about the incident. Security also stopped the reporter from interviewing commuters, claiming that a “permit” was needed from PRASA. We were referred to the manager’s office which was closed at 8:50am when our reporter was there.

Meanwhile Metrorail’s commuters are the main victims of whoever is behind the arson attacks. For example, Taurai Manzane and Songezo Biltani worked a night shift on Monday. They waited for a train home to Khayelitsha at Mutual train station from 6am. But a train only arrived at 9am.