The dysfunctional freight rail system has resulted in significant repercussions for the country. The deteriorating road infrastructure is a direct consequence of the defective transportation provided by the railway system. Furthermore, this dysfunctionality has led to substantial financial losses in export earnings, adversely impacting the economy. Additionally, the declining railway system has contributed to widespread job losses, compounding the existing unemployment challenges in the country.

Telegram Correspondent

On Friday, Transnet, the financially distressed state-owned freight and logistics entity, criticised law enforcement agencies for their lack of action, attributing some of the challenges facing the logistics sector to this inaction.

The compromised rail system, susceptible to the activities of well-coordinated criminal organisations, has resulted in deteriorating road infrastructure, substantial financial setbacks in exports, and a significant reduction in employment opportunities.

The discrepancy of 12 million tonnes between the projected and actual performance of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) has been identified as primarily resulting from security concerns, according to Bonginkosi Mabaso, the chief commercial officer at Transnet. Mabaso’s analysis indicates that these security concerns have had a significant impact on TFR’s ability to meet its projected freight transportation targets.

Mabaso told delegates at the McCloskey Southern African Coal Conference in Cape Town on Friday that due to criminal activities, a minimum of 4 million tonnes of the required volume could not be delivered.

He highlighted to the conference delegates the concerning reality that a significant percentage of cable theft arrests consist of individuals who have been arrested for the same crime multiple times. He said the main reason behind this trend is because “ the conviction rate has been very low.”

Transnet’s rail transportation of goods decreased from 226.5 million tonnes in 2017/18 to 150 million tonnes in 2021/22, marking a one-third reduction over the four years. The decline in rail services has been particularly notable in the coal industry, with the volume of coal transported via Transnet Freight Rail’s coal line to Richards Bay Coal Terminal decreasing from 70 million tonnes in 2020 to 50 million tonnes in 2022. This trend continued in the following year, with the volume dropping to approximately 48 million tonnes, falling short of TFR’s contracted capacity of 60 million tonnes.

Speaking at the same conference, Theo Johnson, the acting managing executive for TFR’s north corridor, expressed disappointment in law enforcement’s effectiveness in apprehending criminals involved in syndicate networks despite the information provided by Transnet.

“We want to run trains, but we have become glorified investigators. We need to close the gap between. Too many come back to commit the same crimes that they were previously arrested for,” said Johnson.

Johnson pointed out that it was clear that some of the people who were arrested were part of highly organised gangs that focused on targeting the coal line. He stressed that these criminals showed high levels of coordination and careful planning, as they were skilled at finding weak spots along the coal line to disrupt its functioning. Furthermore, he stated that these gangs showed flexibility by quickly moving their activities to new locations when their operations were disrupted.

Mabaso revealed that they documented a substantial increase of more than 1,800% in incidents of theft and vandalism along the North Corridor from 2017/18 to 2021/22. He said Transnet is addressing the security challenges by deploying peace officers, a measure already in the final stages of completion. These peace officers are to enhance the management of cases with the ultimate goal of increasing the rate of convictions.

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