Damage to public infrastructure is ‘an act of sabotage’: Cyril Ramaphosa

10 June 2021 - 17:10
By Amanda Khoza
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the country's shortage of funding makes it extremely difficult to repair infrastructure damaged by theft and acts of sabotage. File photo.
Image: GCIS President Cyril Ramaphosa says the country's shortage of funding makes it extremely difficult to repair infrastructure damaged by theft and acts of sabotage. File photo.

Damage to public infrastructure, whether through vandalism or theft, is nothing less than sabotage against the aspirations of South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday.

“Damaged infrastructure is a crime against the people of our country because when people get angry and frustrated, there is just no reason they should attack public infrastructure and prevent other people from getting service from that public infrastructure and improving infrastructure,” said Ramaphosa.

The president was updating the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on damage to infrastructure during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

On damage to commuter rail networks, Ramaphosa said Metrorail experienced an alarming increase in infrastructure theft and vandalism, ranging from overhead electrical lines and electrical substations to train stations and depots. This vandalism took place in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“These acts have a huge impact on the mobility of commuters, who depend on the affordable Metrorail services to access economic opportunities in our major urban centres,” he said.

He said Metrorail had started to repair and replace critical infrastructure, including projects to rehabilitate railway tracks, reinstate electricity infrastructure, wall off rail lines, build and repair pedestrian bridges, station improvements and automated signalling infrastructure.

“This work is hampered by illegal settlements built on the tracks and inside the rail reserve. The Passenger Rail Agency of SA [Prasa] is working with municipalities to address this problem.”

He said a number of commuter rail corridors in Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and several mainline passenger services, have been prioritised for the restoration of infrastructure and the return to service.

Meanwhile, the department of basic education has reported that more than 1,700 schools across the country were vandalised or had equipment stolen since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

When people damage public infrastructure, they must realise that it is easy to damage but to rebuild it is much more expensive.
President Cyril Ramaphosa

The worst affected provinces are KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Eastern Cape and the responsibility to repair lies in the provincial departments.

Ramaphosa said reports from the department of public works and infrastructure indicated there was damage to public infrastructure in Kimberley, Gqeberha and Hout Bay.

These include the theft of cables at a bulk water pump station in Gqeberha, the theft of borehole pumps at two police stations, and damage caused through vandalism at police offices in Qonce, he said.

“We are working to intensify the efforts of law enforcement agencies, working alongside entities like Prasa, to uncover illicit cable trading syndicates and scrap metal dealers in possession of stolen material.”

Answering supplementary questions during the sitting, Ramaphosa said all the damaged public infrastructure were a priority.

“Of course we are facing challenges of a fiscal nature with regards to the availability of funding. That is why when people damage public infrastructure, they must realise that it is easy to damage but to rebuild it is much more expensive in fact, impossibly expensive because now we do not have all the responses.”

Ramaphosa said the government would continue maintaining existing public infrastructure.

“It will take us a long time to replace infrastructure that has been wilfully damaged because it is much more expensive to fix damaged infrastructure. With the shortage of funding, it becomes a difficult task.”

Issuing a warning to those who continue to damage infrastructure, Ramaphosa said: “Law enforcement agencies will continue to take a very dim view against those who damage infrastructure because our country cannot afford to continue with this sabotage, not only against infrastructure but against the people of SA.

“Working together with the auditor-general, local and provincial government, we are going to be make sure funds allocated were utilised according to the purpose for which they are intended.

“We want to remove the temptation for corruption. We want to eliminate corruption completely and therefore we want those levels of government to work transparently and to be accountable. If any fall foul of the rules we have in place, they should be accountable.”

He said the SA National Roads Agency was doing its best to connect villages to towns and make sure roads are maintained.

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