WATCH | Who is torching Cape Town's trains? Behind the scenes of the Tiso Blackstar investigation

14 February 2019 - 09:55 By Aron Hyman and TimesLIVE

Journalist Aron Hyman explains how he and fellow journalist Anthony Molyneaux investigated the fires.

The Sunday Times published an video entitled Prasa burning: An investigation into Cape Town’s train fires earlier this week.

It forms part of a series of investigative pieces to be published by Tiso Blackstar Group after it was awarded YouTube innovation funding by the Google News Initiative (GNI)

“Together with our award-winning journalists at the Sunday Times, we will produce a high-quality, in-depth investigative video journalism series,” said Tiso Blackstar Group’s head of video content, Amanda Moore.

"The funding gives our teams the chance to explore alternative storytelling methods and allows us to improve the skills of journalists who have never delved into multimedia journalism before."

After three trains burst into flames on a single day in October in coordinated attacks, the Sunday Times Cape Town bureau decided to do what neither the police nor the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa seemed capable of: finding the culprits.

Unbeknown to us, that was the day the trains stopped burning. Secret deals had been made and Prasa had changed its tune, along with its management.

Our sources also told us that provincial police detectives could not make head or tail of what was going on. The odds felt stacked against us.

Our fortunes changed when the Sunday Times chose the story as the first to be supported by YouTube, via the Google News Initiative. We embarked on our multimedia investigation in the second week of January, giving us less than a month before our first deadline needed to be met.

Thanks to the initiative, however, we were able to spare a video journalist and a Sunday Times reporter to spend most of their working days (and more) focusing on this story.

We had to start from scratch, meeting sources where the problem seemed to originate: Prasa’s staff working in security services.

From there, we worked every likely angle, climbing the ladder of responsibility, until we found the story hidden in plain sight.

But discovering that the arson attacks on state-owned property are an inside job is hardly eye-opening given recent revelations on how the government has actively participated in dismembering the economy.

To see a post-apocalyptic hellscape on the fringe of one of Africa’s most industrialised cities was the most startling aspect of the story. This investigation shed the first shaft of light on a much larger story which has yet to be uncovered.

Watch the full investigative piece below:


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.