The Mbekweni station in Paarl near Cape Town was the latest to be burnt down in ongoing black rioting in South Africa. A violent protest erupted in the nearby black township on Thursday night and spread to the station. On Friday morning there were scorch marks in offices at the terminal and on the tracks, as well as rocks scattered across the station.
According to eye witnesses, an angry mob of blacks descended on the terminal on Thursday night, ripping apart its tin roof and setting fire to tyres on its tracks and in its offices, closing off the railway until late on Friday morning.
However, the rioters were not angry with railway company, according to Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott.
“Protesters evidently took issue with their local authority about the provision of electricity and vented their dissatisfaction by rampaging at the station.”
On Thursday night police found themselves in a tense stand-off as residents barricaded roads and threw stones.
A group stormed the train station, reducing the inside to rubble as they smashed walls, stormed into the station’s offices and set fire to tyres.
Scott said fire teams were unable to get into the area to quell the flames.
“Due to the volatility in the area, fire services were unable to assist. Asset owner Transnet and rail operator Metrorail have also not been able to assess the extent of the damage to the infrastructure,” said Scott.
The tracks were reopened on Friday morning for normal service. Residents milled around, watching as police arrived to cordon off the station’s main building at around 9am. Many were waiting for trains which were no longer stopping at the township.
Regional manager Richard Walker condemned the attack: “It is inexcusable to destroy assets that serve a law-abiding citizenry reliant on the rail service – this is sheer criminal thuggery. SAPS will continue to monitor the situation and will advise Metrorail when it is safe to resume train services in the area. A Metrorail team will visit the area again later on Friday morning to assess the damage and plan the restoration of the service.”
The protest in Mbekweni in Paarl added to recent train delays. Over the past 10 days Metrorail has had 938 delays to its trains. Scott said these could be attributed to two major incidents exacerbated by vandalism and cable theft.
South Africa has a whole army of copper thieves that steal cables to sell them as scrap metal. The Pretoria station, a historical monument, was also burnt down a few years ago when trains arrived late after copper cables along the railway had been stolen.