South Africa: Thieves Destroy Railway Networks

The dangling cables, crumbling buildings and towering weeds that obscure the tracks give the impression of a place long abandoned. But it is not time that has caused the destruction at this stop east of South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg. Thieves and vandals have been at work.

It was functioning just two years ago, but now, outside the station, workers have to board the slower and more expensive minibus taxis to get into the centre of the city. The damage at Dunswart station is emblematic of the decay of South Africa’s railways. With a network of over 30,000km (18,600 miles) of track, South Africa has the most advanced railway system on the continent, but it has been stripped by criminals looking to make money from scrap metal.

A decision in late 2019 to cancel all private security contracts exacerbated an already difficult situation. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), which oversees the running of the passenger network, made the move because the state’s financial watchdog found the correct process was not followed when the contracts were awarded.

The problem was that no contingency plan was put in place to look after the vital infrastructure. The stations became easy prey for those who saw that there was a quick buck to be made.

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