The negative impact of ongoing damage to public rail infrastructure is costing commuters dearly. Millions of former train commuters now have to pay up to 500% more to travel to and from work by taxi.

Instead of Prasa safeguarding our public rail infrastructure, they have allowed vandals to strip train stations bare, and to put many commuter routes out of action. Workers that used to spend R7,90 on train-fare as an example, from Garankuwa to work in Pretoria, now have to pay R45 to get to work by taxi in the morning, and R45 to go back home. Those who used to spend R140 on a monthly train ticket to their place of work are now spending R960 a month to use taxis to the same work place. As a result of these high transport costs, these workers are now unable to meet all their financial obligations and the needs of their families. Those badly affected are now calling for trains to be brought back as a matter of urgency, as trains are the most affordable public transport for the poor.

There must be some serious consequences for those damaging and destroying public infrastructure. Without severe punishment for those who are destroying property, the problem we are debating today will continue unabated, and the poor and vulnerable will continue to be the ones who suffer the most.

Even before lockdown, Prasa was experiencing serious problems. Countrywide, Metrorail commuters dropped from 543 million in 2013 to 147 million in 2019, and between 2017 and 2019, almost a billion rands of damage was done to our rail infrastructure by vandals and arsonists – while guarded by a security company contracted to Prasa.

In April this year, however, our state-owned rail entity ended their security contract and put its own security guards in place. Vandals became bolder and plundered ticket office roofs, overhead lines, bricks, copper and whatever else they could lay their hands on.

On 20 November 2019, the President signed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act into law. The law provides for sentences of up to 20 years in prison for train arsonists, and to my knowledge, nobody so far has received such a sentence for destroying our infrastructure. The ACDP believes that government must take full responsibility for this sad state of affairs in our country because of their soft approach when dealing with criminals.

Government must have a political will to hunt down and punish criminals who destroy our infrastructure. Unless a clear message is sent that they will be punished severely, then criminals will continue doing it as they have no fear of punishment.

The ACDP demands to know when government is going to start implementing the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. We therefore, call on government to show that they have the will to stop this destruction of our valuable infrastructure.