Fight puts spotlight on safety at station

A security guard who was stabbed by a commuter at Cape Town railway station has raised concerns about security at the transport hub.

In an open letter to the Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, Steve Harris of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) questioned the Passenger Railway Agency of South Africa (PRASA), which owns the station, about security measures after the fight broke out on a platform which left a security guard injured.

According to a preliminary report compiled by the SAPS railway police about the incident, which occurred on Monday August 1, two commuters who were rushing to catch a train bumped into each other, resulting in an altercation.

One of the commuters involved in the fight got a friend to help, and at this point, the security guards intervened, and one guard was stabbed on the left eye.

No one was arrested because, according to the police, no one was prepared to lay a charge.

Mr Harris, who described the incident as “horrific”, highlighted the fact that there were no police officers on the scene, despite the fact that the Railway Police office was “a stone’s throw away” from Platform 2, where the fight broke out.

The spokesperson for the Cape Town division of the Rapid Railway Police, Colonel Jorina Zandberg, said the police officers had been deployed on the trains at the time, while the security guards were on the platforms.

While police were trained and equipped to deal with crime and violence, private security guards were only mandated to observe and report incidents and had no powers of arrest, she said.

The stabbing of the security guard was but one of a number of violent crimes at railway stations in the Western Cape recently, including the robbery and murder of train driver Pieter Botha at Netreg station, and the murder of a security guard, who was shot and killed while patrolling the central line near Thambo Village last month.

Cape Town Community Police Forum (CPF) spokeswoman, Nicola Jowell, said while Cape Town station was not in the CPF’s precinct, they still remained deeply concerned about crime in and around the Cape Town railway station and on the trains.

She also said it was not usual to have violent incidents such as this one.

“Most of the crime related to the station is around common robbery or theft- and drug-related crime. Commuters have no choice but to use the station as their means of entry into the city and they need to feel that they can do so safely.

“This was indeed a very sad incident and we wish a speedy recovery to the man who was hurt in this incident.”

In his letter to Ms Peters, Mr Harris said: “I am disappointed to see that there is barely any visible security or police on the platforms, especially at month-end times when our members and commuters are travelling home with their hard earned salaries.

The security and police are also missing in action when trains are delayed and there are hordes of commuters on the platforms waiting for a train.”

Colonel Zandberg said the Rapid Rail Police Unit deployed members according to the weekly crime pattern analysis. “Members are deployed on platforms (during) peak time, mornings and afternoons, according to their mandate to perform crime prevention duties in terms of the crime pattern analysis and crime analysis.”

The Cape Town division of the railway police, a team of 65 police officers, is responsible for policing 23 stations and for the lines transporting commuters from Cape Town to Bellville via Maitland, and Cape Town to Bellville via Monta Vista.

The 65 members are divided into two platoons, with 32 members working 12-hour shifts. One platoon is on duty per day, covering 24 hours, said Colonel Zandberg.

Prasa, which recently came under fire from businesses at the station about its plan to spend R1 billion on a 120-room hotel, retail space and office block on the station forecourt, but not addressing security, among other concerns (“R1bn development for station forecourt, CapeTowner, July 28,”), declined to comment on the incident or answer questions posed by the CapeTowner, saying that it was a national matter.

However, in previous correspondence, Patrick Gombert of Prasa, said that a security task team, which included SAPS Rapid Railway Unit, Law Enforcement, Prasa Asset Protection and Prasa Cres, met every second week to deal with crime in and around the station precinct.

“To date, operations were initiated and successfully carried out. These operations are continuous,” said Mr Gombert said at the time.

Ms Jowell said the reality was that there were not enough police officers to have someone stationed on every corner and every platform.

“The police are supplemented by private security and we need to make sure they are working hand-in-hand to look after the safety of commuters.

“We need to ensure that the police are responding to calls within the fastest possible time.”

On Wednesday July 28, 1 926 new police constables graduated and were deployed to various police stations in the Western Cape, with 64 of them joining the ranks of Cape Town Central police station.

Asked whether any new recruits were sent to the SAPS Rapid Railway Unit, Colonel Zandberg said the Rapid Rail Police Unit would expand “in the future” .

In response to the letter by Mr Harris, Ms Peters’ private secretary, Lavhe Mulangaphuma, said a meeting had been scheduled to take place next week in Pretoria between UNTU and the minister.

The date of the meeting has not yet been confirmed.