PRASA on plans to deal with damage caused by vandalism and theft of its infrastructure

NCOP Transport, Public Service and Administration, Public Works and Infrastructure

21 October 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Mmoiemang (ANC, Northern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

Video: SC on Transport, Public Service & Administration, Public Works & Infrastructure (NCOP) 21 Oct 2020

The Select Committee convened on a digital platform for a briefing by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) on an update of vandalism and theft, challenges, action required, infrastructure interventions, impact of COVID19 and updates on priority programmes. Interventions include creating an internal security capability for armed response and control room operations; a procurement phase is under way for early warning security technology and a defensive security system; procurement of specialised investigative services with legal support; and the use of drones to conduct patrols of high-risk infrastructure. National Treasury allowed for a R900-million budget shift to go towards the security operations of the agency. In addition, Prasa revealed that there had been 274 cases of vandalism and malicious damage to property reported to the police in July. 

The Committee questioned what action had been taken against criminals and vandals stressing the importance of PRASA using the Criminal Matters Amendment Act (2016) to effect harsher penalties to deter further criminal activity. Members were also interested in action PRASA had taken in terms of findings and reports by the Public Protector and Auditor-General. Further questions probed plans to secure further security personnel, relations between PRASA and Transnet for maintenance and whether PRASA was looking into alternative methods of conduction, such as aluminium, as a means to get around the chronic illness of copper theft. The Committee sought updates on the Mabopane and central lines, intelligence capacity and wanted to know more about the R900 million virement granted by Treasury.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the meeting by extending a warm welcome to the Passenger Rail Agency (PRASA) delegation, accepted apologies, and allowed the head of the PRASA delegation to introduce his team.

The Chairperson highlighted the importance of curbing all challenges that hinder PRASA from forwarding its mandate and it is this importance that necessitated the meeting. PRASA plays a critical role in terms of the economic recovery of SA.

PRASA Briefing

Mr Badisa Matshego, Interim PRASA Head, took Members through the presentation beginning by looking at vandalism and theft of infrastructure. Challenges in this regard included:

  • Senseless attacks on employees/ private security guards while on duty
  • Increasing high demand for ferrous and non-ferrous metals
  • Crime, theft and MDTP (vandalism of assets)
  • Sabotage
  • Security contracts vs. quality of service supplied
  • Public being killed by illegal connections – PRASA railway tracks, tampering with high voltage cable
  • Lack of proper investigations/ intelligence/ law enforcement support
  • Security contractors do not create strategic partnerships
  • Not enough dependence on modern technology
  • Not enough intelligence to plan proactive operations
  • Misalignment of security structures.
  • Lack of standardisation of processes within the different regions. Each region has own structure and levels differ.
  • Lack of standardisation of job titles within the different regions, as well allocation of equal responsibilities to different levels creating inconsistencies and grievances.
  • Absence of job profiles/ job descriptions at various levels.
  • Confusion in the command and control.
  • Absence of supervisory oversight functions.
  • Allocation of security resources is not proportional to the risks.
  • Ageing workforce and an absence of succession planning.

Action required included:

  • Illumination
  • Cleaning of the yards
  • Reactivation of CCTVs
  • Tree felling and vegetation clearing
  • Demolition of dilapidated structures
  • Coordinated programme to evict vagrants and illegal occupants
  • Servicing of shutters
  • Fixing/Repair of the fences
  • Urgent disposal of scrap
  • Beefing up of security personnel

Mr Tebogo Rakau, PRASA Acting Head of Security, took Members through the security plan - PRASA is in the process of developing the required capability to mitigate and combat theft as well as vandalism of its infrastructure. This includes the following security interventions:

 -Creating of an internal security capability for armed response, control room operations and increasing the number of physical security officials; this has already commenced unfortunately about 749 have to be re-advertised due to unsuitability of the candidates

-Introduction of E-Guarding solution for protection of mission critical assets (substations, relay rooms and GSM-R high sites) with early warning security technology and defensive security systems; it is already at procurement phase

-Procurement of specialised investigations services with legal support and access to criminal laboratory. This capability will assist the department in securing better sentences and improving the prosecution rate of offenders;

-Deployment of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems in order to conduct virtual patrols of high risk infrastructure, this capability will work in tandem with specialised investigations and armed response.

These interventions are security force multipliers and enablers that will make an invaluable contribution to improving the security response to theft and vandalism that will result in a significant reduction in crime incidents. The interventions will also be complemented by the walling of corridors/servitude with Mabopane and Central line already at procurement phase.

As part of ensuring that PRASA realises its targets in the security plan, budget was limited; a virement was requested to National Treasury to support the requirements. As such a virement was submitted to National Treasury via the Department of Transport and was approved at circa R900mil strictly for the security interventions aimed at protecting current assets and infrastructure in the short term nationally. This virement would allow PRASA, additional to the insourcing to acquire additional specialised capacity from private security companies to amplify the protection of assets, infrastructure, commuters and employees. The above was aimed at ensuring no further distraction of assets is experienced.

The presentation detailed a five pillar joint operational concepts to address rail infrastructure theft:

  1. Pillar 1: Intelligence gathering, analysis and coordination. This pillar is solemnly in the police domain
  2. Pillar 2: Proactive approach. Directed at strategically deploying new security.
  3. Pillar 3: Combat dpproach. Mainly dealt with by the police.
  4. Pillar 4: Reactive approach through detection. Enhances pillar 2. Involves briefs by the detection and intelligence services.
  5. Pillar 5: Communication and liaison. Centred around community involvement in the security process.

Mr Hishaam Emeran, Chief Executive: Technical, PRASA, took Members through infrastructure interventions. With regards to rail infrastructure and trains, PRASA has technical teams who maintain the infrastructure on regular basis. Depending on the type of incident, an affected discipline(electrical, perway, signalling and telecoms and rolling stock ) is informed together with security  and the discipline control office issues a reference number to activate technical personnel to go out on site.  On site, the team will assess the damages and it is during the assessment that all damaged equipment is quantified and also verified with security. If the scope of damage is major such that it cannot be repaired immediately due to the nature of resources required (on track machinery and material), a decision is then taken to either close the line for a longer period or do temporary repairs whilst sourcing the required resources which will then allow limited trains to run at an applicable speed restriction.  If the scope of damage is minor, then the aim is to restore the equipment within 24hrs. Further, the regional teams periodically conduct visual inspection of the state of the infrastructure and trains. If any vandalism/damage observed is noted, it is quantified and reported to security department

In terms of the corridor recovery plan, timeframes will continue to be reviewed, as the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the procurement and construction programme is not fully known at this stage.  Weekly progress reports are prepared in this regard. Teams have utilised the lockdown period to improve and finalise specification for the various infrastructure packages (electrical). The procurement schedule for the corridor programmes has also been developed.  Specific SCM Committees (Specification and Evaluation) are being established to ensure the fast-tracking of specifications and tender evaluations.  Advertising of projects under level 4 lockdown is being considered through deviations where applicable. A stakeholder plan being developed to ensure effective communication and involvement of key stakeholders in the programme. With regards to the interim (bus) service, consideration is being given to the repair and utilisation of some of the Autopax bus fleet.

The Central Line has been severely impacted by illegal settlements in the rail reserve in Langa, Philippi and Nonkqubela on Khayelitsha. The Minister of Transport is leading a process that is comprised of the National Department of Public Works, the Western Cape Provincial Departments of Human Settlement and Transport and the City of Cape Town. The intention is to find a solution through joints efforts to find alternative accommodation for these illegal settlers

Critical areas to be unlocked included CAPEX funding and operational staff funding.

The presentation addressed the impact of the COVID19 lockdown – there was an overall negative impact on planned project timelines and capital intervention programmes as PRASA terminated all services during the lockdown.

The presentation provided an update on priority programmes and procurement.


Mr E Landsman (ANC, North West) was interested in issues relating to any Public Protector or Auditor-General reports/findings apart from what was already mentioned and how far PRASA was in addressing them. He asked what lucrative action has been taken against culprits who have been misusing the institution. Accountability is needed beyond what is displayed in the media and detailed timeframes are required. He was concerned the information on insourcing was the same as the Committee received some time ago. Has there been specialised training for the newly employed security personnel and marshals who have been hired to ensure COVID-19 compliance amongst PRASA’s clients? If so, is there a credible institution responsible for the training and are there funds set aside for this? If not, why not? He asked if all the processes were compliant with the law and Treasury guidelines.

Mr Matshego responded that there is an AG report with concerning findings and where an adverse opinion was faced but PRASA will deal with it decisively. The AG pointed to asset protection, vandalism, theft and malicious damage to property linking it to effective internal controls. PRASA is attending to this including through the plan shared with Members today. The AG made findings on leadership capabilities and oversight – PRASA will ensure all solutions put on the table will remain sustainable even for its successors. The AG also made findings on the culture of the organisation such as timeous response to challenges – PRASA is working aggressively to resolve this. It is important for PRASA to balance its attention to the assets and attention to the customer – this involves urgent, robust stakeholder management.

PRASA is well geared to root out corruption within the entity. It is making use of the services of the Special Investigating Unit looking at all other areas of malfeasance. There is support of PRASA’s internal audit function running internal investigations and there are good recommendations on what needs to be done, individuals that have been singled out, some of which are going to disciplinary inquiries.

Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KZN) asked how many prosecutions PRASA has managed in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Bill, which was passed in 2015 and came into effect in 2016. The Bill has harsh sanctions for any person that vandalised or stole infrastructure, including electrical rail infrastructure, including a prison sentence up to 30 years or a fine up to R1 million. Why was there not a huge media campaign around this? This could be used to deter possible vandals.

Reference was made in the presentation to maintenance of properties where PRASA operates. Often when PRASA is questioned on the cleaning up of railway stations and the surrounding area, PRASA says the land belongs to Transnet. Has PRASA has negotiated any agreement with Transnet to get Transnet to clean up the land on which PRASA assets are sitting. Derelict property is often attractive to criminals

Mr Brauteseth said theft of cable is huge problem and the theft is due to the copper content which is extremely valuable. What measures have been taken to consider alternative, less attractive for theft, methods of conduction other than copper such as aluminum.

What security considerations have been made to devolve security over the PRASA assets in metros to the metros so that PRASA looks after city-to-city lines but the lines in the metro are the responsibility of the metros themselves?

Mr Matshego agreed that levels of engagement between PRASA and Transnet need to be intensified. Areas of responsibilities and common interests need to be set out properly. The engagements are planned for.

The technical team has already started using aluminum as an alternative means of conduction. However, this might not be the silver bullet as vandals will still damage property in the hopes of finding copper only to discover its aluminum. The emphasis is on not allowing the criminals access to the infrastructure in the first place. There are plans to put in place reinforced concrete “smart” walls with security features.

Mr Matshego could not speak at length regarding the issue of devolving the assets as there was no policy on this.  As recipients of a permit from the RSR, the responsibility for the protection of assets and customers lies with PRASA and are thus safe and protected.

Mr Rakau responded that the difficulty of implementing the Criminal Matters Amendment Act was linked to the Critical Infrastructure Act only being passed by Parliament at the end of 2019. In the preceding period, criminals charged in terms of the Act were basically let off scot-free but as part of integration with the police in terms of joint operations, all cases registered since August, the criminals were charged in accordance with the Act. He did not have the details but sentences were issued in one of the Gauteng courts – the detail can e supplied to the Committee. The suspect was effectively given 20 years for having copper wire in his possession. The Act is already in motion.

He said there are about 530 train stations and if deployment was sustained at all these stations, it would basically mean eight people to man those stations, at a minimum. This is without further inspection of criticalness and vulnerability of each station. PRASA was not able to sustain this hence the utilisation of technology. This does not even apply to the 2 228km rail network which also needs protection. A combination of technology and warm bodies would be used to protect the network. Adverts for additional security have been sent out.

Mr Brauteseth welcomed the action being taken and emphasised the importance of the media campaign as a deterrence to criminal activity. People must know that if they messed with PRASA, they could sit in jail for 20 years.

Mr Emeram expanded on the smarts walls. A tender has been issued to consult with engineers. The tender is being evaluated. The tender for construction of the wall will be issues and will require the process of construction to be broken into smaller bits to ensure a time-effective process and to open it to the market in terms of implementation.

The Chairperson asked if more light could be shared on the father and son arrested in Gauteng.

Mr Rakau answered that the arrest was effected through intelligence surveillance done on the premises. The police and metro was involved and the case involved the Secondhand Goods Act – he guaranteed that the people arrested through the raid were charged through the Criminal Matters Amendment Act.

Mr M Dangor (ANC, Gauteng) said that he served a constituency which was an industrial heartland but the rail lines have been stripped including the buildings and stations. The communities asked why railway police were not reemployed with the power of arrest instead of security companies who needed to call the police. There have been suggestions that the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) be asked to seize all copper and steel from scrap yards where there is no identifiable mining source.

Ms M Moshodi (ANC, Free State) said Mr Landsman covered the points which she would like to make, especially in regard to the misusing of the institution.

Ms S Boshoff (DA, Mpumalanga) could not bring her question forth due to network issues.

Ms M Mamaragane (ANC, Limpopo) stated that the points she would like to make have been addressed.

The Chairperson felt it was important for PRASA to share the revised timeframes for the Mabopane railway. This was raised by the President in his State of the Nation Address in terms of infrastructure projects so progress reports were needed.  He raised the virement Treasury had granted to PRASA emphasising the importance of a strategic approach to ensure value for money. He asked about the capacity within the criminal intelligence system regarding the prevention of arson and attacks on critical infrastructure. There is a need for collaborative effort between the security apparatus and PRASA to solve the chronic illness of malicious damage to infrastructure and assets. He asked whether alternative land has been found to solve the Phillipi-Langa land invasion issue and the timeframes involved.

Mr Matshego responded that the bulk of the R900 million virement from Treasury will be channeled into immediate security provision. More warm bodies are needed to supplement the 3 100 security officers recruited to PRASA. Some of the money will also be directed to technology interventions outlined in the presentation.  

Ms Nosipho Damasane, PRASA CEO, responded that out of the 24 PRASA corridors, 12 have been opened since 1 July and nine more would be opened in October, which is transport month. On the Mabopane line, there is a long term plan for the wall – this has already gone out to tender to find consulting engineers to assist in protecting the line before there is a full rollout of the corridor. Two solutions were presented. The first being a full bus service and the other being a hybrid of a bus system and a railway system however this solution required deeper engagement with all stakeholders to ensure there was joint effort to ensure the corridor worked. The final resolution was opting for a full diesel locomotive over the hybrid options. Although diesel is slightly more expensive than electric lines, it provides the safety against thieves and ensure people get to work on time. The Minister will launch this line early November but the testing of the line will be started on 3 November 2020.

Stakeholder engagement on the central line has started and the Transport and Human Settlements DGs are consulting to find alternative land to resettle invaders. The rollout of the project has been brought forward from 2021. A hybrid system would also be used for the central line so that the line towards the city would only be diesel locomotive service and the buses would be used as a feeder system. 80 buses are coming from AutoPax, PRASA’S sister company. These are interim solutions to ensure the lines get moving.

Mr T Apleni (EFF, Eastern Cape) was unable to contribute to the discussion due to network issues.

The Chairperson appreciated the undertakings made by the Accounting Officer. The Committee was updated on matters of vandalism, what was happening in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KZN, criminal prosecution, challenges of security and the infrastructure development approach. The Committee was pleased and looked forward to the arrest of criminals and improvement in operations especially on critical lines.

The delegation from PRASA was excused from the meeting to allow the Committee to adopt minutes of previous meetings.

Adoption of Minutes

Committee Minutes dated 14 October 2020

Ms Moshodi requested an edit to the attendance of the meeting to accurately reflect her attendance as part of the meeting.

The minutes were adopted.

Committee Minutes dated 7 October 2020

The minutes were adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.







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