Hundreds arrested in PRASA crackdown

Western Cape Regional Manager says copper theft has reached unprecedented levels

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Photo of stolen cables
Underground signal cable material is the most targeted item by thieves. About 93% of the material stolen over a 12-month period was recovered by new security teams at PRASA, says Western Cape Regional manager Richard Walker. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) Western Cape Regional manager Richard Walker told the media on Wednesday that the collaboration between various law enforcement agencies, private security contractors and the National Prosecuting Authority has been successful in fighting cable theft and vandalism.

However, Cape Town commuters continue to struggle daily to get to work. They regularly experience cancellations, delays, get stuck between stations, and many spend over two hours on the train for a journey that should take less than 30 minutes.

In January 2018 the Central line service was suspended several times because of vandalism, cable theft and the destruction of infrastructure in the Bonteheuwel-Netreg-Nyanga area.

Walker said that 12 months after implementing additional security resources the teams had responded to 258 incidents, which resulted in 337 arrests. He also said that of the 186 cases presented in court, bail was denied in every case and 24 successful convictions were secured.

He said that damages over the 12 months amounted to R134 million and stolen items to R22.6 million. Goods to the value of R4.56 million had been recovered.

Underground signal cable material is the most targeted item. About 93% was recovered by the teams – averaging R380,722 worth of material every month.

Walker said the forensic team had made 1,177 court appearances in the 12-month period, having attended up to 40 court cases a week.

“Sentences received varied from a R3,000 fine to 30 years imprisonment. The latter sentence was given to a notorious gang leader. In all cases bail was denied and suspects spent between 53 and 321 days in custody. The average detention period was 136 days,” he said.

In his presentation he said theft of copper correlated directly with the price of copper. The theft of non-ferrous metals has escalated to unprecedented levels in South Africa over the past decade because it is so lucrative. Annually R5 billion is lost, excluding the cost to the economy.

Walker said that it has become essential that the demand for scrap metal be adequately regulated and enforced. “It is an extremely lucrative industry that debilitates the entire country and therefore requires collaboration at the highest level. It remains a largely cash-based industry. That is why we must lobby for electronic payment methods that can be traced and [so that] VAT can be levied. Law enforcement agencies must start cracking down on middle men and those heading criminal enterprises. Illicit traders must be arrested and non-compliant dealers must be shut down.”

In October 2018, while briefing the Western Cape provincial legislature’s Standing Committee on Community Safety, SAPS representative Brigadier Bonginkosi Solucutho said one of the police’s challenges was that CCTV cameras on stations were not seen as a priority by PRASA. “Cameras are off since 2015. On platforms there are no cameras,” he said.

In reply to a question about this, Walker said that most cameras at Cape Town’s central train station are working but there are many cameras at other stations still not working, the reason being theft. “We have already started working on replacing and repairing cameras,” he said.

Regarding robberies on trains, Walker said teams, which include PRASA Protection Services, the SAPS Rapid Rail Response Unit, security contractors, together with provincial SAPS, are analysing how best to respond.

TOPICS:  Crime Policing Transport

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