Seventy-seven Metrorail carriages have been destroyed or badly damaged in Cape Town since the start of 2014 at a replacement or repair cost of well over R300 million. And that’s without counting the other railways’ infrastructure which has been wrecked.

We’re averaging around three carriages lost per month, but April has been appalling. Seven were badly damaged on Friday 15 April 2016, three of them from Esplanade station.

Metrorail, once again, was forced to severely restrict its services during the peak which left in excess of 200 000 commuters scrambling for alternatives which were thin on the ground, and expensive.

This is criminality on a monumental scale which paralyses an entire city and costs millions in lost productivity and the capital spent on replacement or repair.
Where’s the urgent action plant to counteract this?

There have been plenty of words of condemnation and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters wants “an in-depth investigation.’ I would prefer to see her, the justice minister, the Western Cape police commissioner, local Metrorail boss Richard Walker, the mayor, Satawu and Cosatu on a podium with a concerted programme of manpower and process.

The union’s presence is important because there’s a widespread belief that the current wave of destruction is connected to its strike action about “outsourcing and corruption” against which Metrorail successfully gained an interdict.

Satawu – “A Revolutionary Union Most Admired!” according to its bizarre website but, in reality, an ever-diminishing union after several splits and administrative shambles – denies the claim, but then hints at justifiable frustrations among members.

Organised labour needs to uncategorically disown this and then help provide some practical solutions.

Can Tony Ehrenreich and his colleagues park the politics and work with the city to help solve a crisis that affects their members more than anyone else? How about a special police squad with a dig into the Satawu membership base as a first point of investigation. Some SANDF patrols on stations at night? Extra CCTV cameras? A hotline? Fast-track courts? Legislation imposing especially severe sentences for this kind of crime?

Metrorail really matters to this city – when it doesn’t work, the city doesn’t work – but it travails are not prioritised because few of the political or business elite actually use it on a regular basis.

While many criticisms are validly fired at the rail company for inefficiencies on a daily basis, in this instance the responsibility lies in the broader public domain. It’s totally unreasonable to expect Metrorail to protect 1 000 coaches, 1 200 stations, and 460km of track around the clock in the face of naked criminal vandalism.

That’s the job of government at every level and, at the moment, they’re failing in the task abysmally.


Mike Wills – Cape Argus