Scrap thieves caught on the trot in two one-horsepower getaway vehicles

16 September 2021 - 12:20
By Paul Ash
One of the carts after being off-loaded.
Image: City of Cape Town One of the carts after being off-loaded.

A trio of scrap thieves was caught hot to trot in Cape Town on Wednesday after law enforcement officers in Epping waved down two overloaded carts, each pulled by a horse.

On inspecting the carts, officers found mast poles normally used to hold the overhead cables that provide power for electric locomotives and commuter trains.

“Three males, one of which was a minor, were on the carts and heading towards a scrap metal dealer,” said City of Cape Town law enforcement spokesperson Wayne Dyason.

“On the carts officers found mast poles belonging to Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of SA] which are used to hold the electrical infrastructure lines stable to provide electricity to train sets, signals, and telecommunication lines.”

The suspects could not provide a “credible explanation” for having the poles, said Dyason.

“They were promptly arrested for the possession of stolen property and, in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act , for tampering, damaging or destroying any parts of essential infrastructure,” he said.

The officers contacted the SPCA to take the horses into its care.

The getaway carts were also impounded.

Prasa's commuter rail network has been ravaged by scrap theft in the past 18 months.

Only a handful of Metrorail routes are now operating as the agency grapples with a tsunami of scrap theft.

When trains stopped running and the security presence evaporated at Prasa stations during the first hard lockdown in April last year, scrap thieves stole billions of rand worth of overhead power cables, signal and telecommunications wiring, steel catenary poles and metal fittings from station buildings.

Entire stations in Gauteng have been stripped of windows, roofs, plumbing and even bricks, while thieves have also dug up platforms in desperate attempts to reach the copper signal cables buried underneath.

On some Prasa routes to Gauteng's East Rand, rails have also been stolen, dashing hopes of resuming commuter train services any time soon.

In Cape Town, the vital central line that once linked Khayelitsha with the city has been built over with shacks, raising the question of whether Prasa will be able to fulfil its promise of resuming services on the line by the end of 2022.