S.Africa: Railway cable theft report: And there goes the end of my tether

As my colleagues, friends and some readers will know, I’m usually the epitome of calmness. Not quite Federer calm, but close enough. I generally choose to listen and prefer to keep my opinions to myself. At the same time, I strive for balance and objectivity in my reporting. But sometimes life can push you a bit closer to the edge.

Death will do that. How many people do you have in your life that love you unconditionally? The actual number is irrelevant, but it may be fewer than you imagine. And so losing one of them takes its toll. Life comes into sharp perspective.

Emotions, predictably, are raw. Some emotions, of course, are to be expected. Grief. Sadness. Loss. Regret. But what I had not expected is anger. White-hot and tightly curled, it sits deep in the pit of my belly, ready to erupt like a volcano at the smallest tremor. The driver, travelling at 90km/h on a suburban road who dared flash his lights at me. Or the doctor’s assistant who told me the script I’d come to collect would only be ready in the afternoon. But just as easily as the emotion erupts, so it subsides.

This week, reading Transnet’s now-regular report on cable theft, I felt the now-familiar knot as the volcano threatened to erupt. Except this time I did not know what to do with the anger that seethed within. I was – am – outraged.

Think about this: in the 10 days up to 10 November, 55km of copper cable was stolen off Transnet railway lines. That’s 5.5kms a day of the wires that power the trains up and down the country and around the metro networks that are still running.

This is up from 2km a day in June/July and, if we carry on at this rate, criminals will soon be stealing 10km a day. This boggles the mind. It takes heavy equipment and dozens of people to rip out cabling. The thieves can hardly be inconspicuous, and often return just days after the line is repaired. It is all very well to report the stats, but what are you doing about it? Where is the security, intelligence, local community support?

It costs about R1-million a kilometre to replace that cable. That means R5.5-million in cable-related expenses a day. High-tech security would be cheap at the price.

This year, Transnet Freight Rail cancelled 1,190 trains as a direct result of security-related incidents. There has been a spike in incidents on the coal line, the manganese line and on the Central Corridor that connects these lines. These lost volumes can never be recouped. These lines are cash cows; they are what is holding the already lossmaking company back from the brink.

The problem is evident: if you neglect your lines, thieves and opportunists will encroach on your assets. It’s the same as leaving your car in Delmas for three months and expecting it to be there when you return. Assuming such is negligence. Where is this cable going? It’s not something you can slip into your back pocket. Someone must have eyes on. Is our intelligence that bad that we cannot put a stop to this criminal enterprise?

Transnet has had new leadership for 18 months. Why have we not seen a visible difference in the performance of the critically important Sishen-Saldanha line, which transports iron ore from the mines in the Northern Cape to the port at Saldanha? Why have maintenance and security not been prioritised on the coal lines?

Performance has been so poor that coal miner Exxarro recently put out a request for information to find alternative solutions to Transnet.

How is this even remotely acceptable? And what about the companies that are getting fat supplying cable to Transnet? Who are they? Nice business if you can get it.

And it’s not all about Transnet. What about the supposed “third-party access” that the government promised last October as part of the much-trumpeted Operation Vulindlela, which is meant to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms?

At the time, branch-line concession agreements were signed with three companies, including the energetic Sbhekuza Rail. But nothing has come of this because the parties cannot agree on the T’s & C’s of the contract.

Predictably, the government (which knows sweet blow-all about business) is determined to shove its own archaic ideology down business’s throats. It’s a habit that disables any and all enterprising individuals who try to engage with it.

Long live ideology. Screw the country. And yes, I’m having a rant. Usually, my style is to avoid ranting. It gets the blood up and nobody listens anyway. But this time I don’t care because I’m angry, and it feels good saying so. DM168

Source: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2021-11-14-transnet-cable-theft-report-and-there-goes-the-end-of-my-tether/

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