Train service still crippled

Charmaine Adams, chairwoman of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum’s Tafelsig West sub-forum, stands in a trench dug to steal cables.

The authorities have urged Tafelsig residents to report vandalism and theft as cable thieves continue to dig up the community’s pavements.

Kapteinsklip train station was closed in January 2018 following extensive damage on the central train line.

Trenches line the pavement along Yellowwood Street, across from the derelict train station, which has been stripped of overhead cables. Poles lie across the tracks, bricks have been stolen and lamp-posts have been cut down and gutted of their wiring.

The holes in the pavement hinder pedestrians, many of whom are pupils at Yellowwood Primary School, as they try to catch a taxi on the busy street.

Metrorail spokeswoman, Nana Zenani, urged residents to report vandalism and theft.

“If communities turn a blind eye to criminality, it will be a matter of time before the crime happens on their properties,” she said.

Residents should be on the lookout for fires because the thieves burnt the cables’ outer sheaths to get the copper.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) continued to spend large amounts of money on fixing ageing rail infrastructure, she said.

“New trains have been manufactured, but they find rail lines that are vandalised, robbing communities of a new service on brand-new trains.”

Ms Zenani said the parastatal was committed to replacing all operational lines but she could not say when that was likely to happen, only that Prasa was busy with the procurement process.

Charmaine Adams, chairwoman of Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum’s Tafelsig West sub-forum, said the trenches dug by cable thieves were a hazard for residents, especially school pupils, forcing them to walk on the sides of the busy street.

“Our lives are in danger,” she said.

The thieves were now moving closer to the houses, stealing drain covers, she said.

“They chop it fine and sell it to the scrap yards.”

Mitchell’s Plain police station commander, Brigadier Cass Goolam, said the residents were their own worst enemies.

“They are apathetic and will not do anything until it happens or involves them,” he said. “The biggest challenge or threat to the community is themselves.

“A united community can show force in numbers and can make a citizen’s arrest and call the police to fetch the perpetrator.”

Law enforcement agencies could do nothing without a community’s support, he said.

The station’s spokesman, Captain Ian Williams, said that without the trains running, commuters had to use other, often more expensive, transport and they had to walk further to catch it, exposing them to the risk of criminal attacks.

“There is currently a project initiated by Prasa, in conjunction with the municipality, the provincial government and police, to reinstate and secure the infrastructure with the participation of safety structures in the community,” he said. “Railway police and Metro police are also stakeholders.”

There had been ongoing arrests, he said.

“We are also stepping up the policing of second-hand goods or intelligence gathering, as there’s information that stolen materials are being smuggled out of Mitchell’s Plain.”

He said: “We encourage residents to report all suspicious activity and crime to SAPS as soon as possible.

“We, as a community, must develop the mindset of caring and guardianship of our environment and not allow criminal elements to do as they please with public property.”

Kapteinsklip train station has been stripped of overhead cables and poles lie across the tracks.

Mayoral committee member (Mayco) for safety and security, JP Smith, said metal and cable theft was an ongoing issue.

“The City’s enforcement agencies do the best that they can, under often very difficult circumstances,” he said.

Citywide, between July 2020 and June this year, the Metal Theft Unit, or Copperheads, made 224 arrests, issued 3 664 fines and participated in 411 operations.

They also conducted 2 049 scrapyard inspections.

Mr Smith said the bulk of arrests were in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015, with others ranging from drug possession to reckless and negligent driving and bribery.

During the same period in the previous financial year, the Metal Theft Unit made 78 arrests, issued 1 041 fines, participated in 213 operations and inspected 1 984 scrapyards.

He said during the hard lockdown “criminals had a field day” as usually bustling places of business and transit suddenly came to a halt, which saw a massive spike in metal theft and this too is reflected in the statistics.

Beverley van Reenen, Mayco member for energy and climate change, said vandalism did not only impacts residents’ negatively but also the public purse.

“Money that can be spent on other projects to improve the lives of residents has to be redirected to fix what is being destroyed,” she said.

She said the train station area had long been prone to vandalism.

In 2019 refurbishment of the street light infrastructure was carried out using Municipal Urban Renewal Project funds (MURP) and all the streetlight infrastructure at Kapteinsklip was reinstated.

The area’s sub-council used some of its ward allocation funds to build capacity within the community for a neighbourhood watch group, which they partnered with to carry out patrols and safeguard the reinstated infrastructure.

Ms Van Reenen said it worked very well from about September 2019 until March last year.

She said this changed very quickly when lockdown hit and the neighbourhood watch stopped operating, creating an opportunity for the vandals to once again vandalise all the infrastructure.

“We do need the help of the community by taking ownership of the infrastructure that services their area and by safeguarding it where they can. The vandalised infrastructure is compromising the reliability and security of electricity supply.

“We urge residents to work with us and report any illegal activity to the City and the South African Police Service,” she said.

Vandalism or theft of equipment is regarded as an essential infrastructure-related criminal offence.

Residents may report any suspicious activities near electricity infrastructure or provide any leads on electricity tampering to the City or SAPS.

Report damage to municipal electrical infrastructure by via SMS 31220 or email power@capetown.gov.za

Residents can give anonymous tip-offs if they are aware of illegal activity, such as illegal connections that are taking place; that has happened or is still to happen.

Call 112 from a cellphone (toll-free) and 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 for emergencies.