Cape Town taxi worker who burned train to ‘get better pay’ sentenced to 20 years

A metro train parked outside Cape Town station. Photo: Jonathan Lestrade/Sons

  • A taxi worker was sentenced to 20 years in prison for burning a train.
  • According to the taxi employee, he burned the car because he gets paid more if more taxis are in service.
  • Prasa was awarded damages worth R3.5 million.

A taxi worker based at Eerste River Taxi Rank has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for burning a train, leaving the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) with a damages bill of 3, 5 million rand.

Ricardo Khan was sentenced on Wednesday for damage to critical infrastructure.

According to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Eric Ntabazalila, during his hearing, Khana said he was paid more if more taxis were in service.

Khan was arrested after the carriage was set on fire at Eerste River station on March 20, 2020.

Law enforcement officers, Prasa officials and a team of police officers attached to the Cape Town Provincial Command Center attended the scene.

Ntabazalila said:

A commuter approached a law enforcement officer and pointed out a suspect. A Prasa official made a video of the incident and later [when] this video has been closely examined, a suspect has been identified and it was the same person reported earlier to law enforcement.

The trial began last December.

Prasa’s chief investigator, Jan Paul Jordaan, said they were falling around 70% under budget each month due to the inability to generate revenue, due to no trains being available. He added that Khan’s actions had impacted the entire Western Cape community as trains were the cheapest mode of transport.

Another Prasa official, Herold Jacobus van Reenen, testified that since 2019 there had been four train fires, thefts of hard drives from stations, and vandalism and thefts of copper cables. He added that when the trains were burned down, the obvious alternative for commuters became taxis.

READ | Cape Town trains suspended for second time in a week after vandalism

Lead state attorney Aradhana Heeramun argued that the financial loss suffered by Prasa was one of the factors the court should consider.

“However, the impact these incidents have on the poor in our communities is where the real tragedy lies. Trains are the cheapest form of transport. When posts are taken out of service, commuters are forced to use taxis, which are more expensive, and ultimately cost commuters more.

“Only the taxi industry benefits from the decommissioning of trains. Prasa has to reimburse commuters due to the decommissioning of sets. Replacing cars entails exorbitant costs for the state,” Heeramun said.

She welcomed the conviction, saying the successful prosecution was the result of teamwork and commended the investigating officer, Sergeant Marthiens Jacobs, for his work.

Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions Nicolette Bell also praised the team involved.

“We are satisfied with this sentencing. It sends a very strong message that burning trains is economic sabotage. Its impact goes far beyond the immediate satisfaction of the defendant and negatively affects the country’s economy.”

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