Guard shot in chest between train stations

The bullet holes where the vehicle was struck.

A Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) guard is fighting for his life after he was shot by armed robbers while patrolling the train tracks between Bonteheuwel and Netreg stations last Thursday.

Mkhululi Nelani, 31, a United National Transport Union (UNTU) member, and a colleague were patrolling the railway line when the men fired shots at their vehicle.

Mr Nelani was shot in the chest.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said that according to Mr Nelani’s colleague’s statement, four men had been involved in the incident.

“Three (bullets) struck the vehicle and one hit the driver in the chest. His colleague rushed him to hospital where he is awaiting surgery to remove the bullet,” she said.

Mr Nelani has been working for Metrorail since 2008.

UNTU media liaison, Sonja Carstens said that the attackers got away and it was uncertain if the guards had been robbed of any valuables.

“His colleague called for backup and he was taken to the nearest hospital were doctors are currently busy with him, deciding if they should take the risk to try and take the bullet out in his chest in theatre. He is in a critical condition,” she said.

General secretary of UNTU Steve Harris, said that Mr Nelani’s colleagues were traumatised by the incident.

“We are all praying for him right now,” he said.

Ms Carstens said that UNTU was in contact with the area commander for protection services and investigations were under way.

She said UNTU had brought an urgent application against Prasa in March this year in the Western Cape High Court to ask the court to force the passenger rail operator to provide safe working conditions for its employees on the notorious Central Line where there have been armed robberies of train crews and commuters daily.

“Prasa responded that the state-owned enterprise can do no more and that it is the responsibility of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to combat crime on railway lines,” said Ms Cartsens.

“UNTU then cited the SAPS as a party to the court application, but the police opposed. According to the SAPS they have no obligation towards protecting employees of Prasa as the company are obliged to do so in terms of the terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act,” said Ms Carstens.

Mr Harris said that the union disagreed with SAPS.

“In terms of the Constitutional mandate given to the SAPS, it has an obligation to protect all of those who live in South Africa, their property and the infrastructure of the State. All the assets of Prasa belong to the South African taxpayer who is ultimately also footing the bill for the SAPS. But while Prasa and the SAPS have wasted months debating who is not doing their job, our innocent members who only try to earn a living by serving train commuters to the best of their ability, and poor commuters who has no other alternative but to make use of trains, the cheapest from of public transport in South Africa, are losing their lives on the railway lines,” he said.

Mr Harris said that the union has now called on all South Africans to stand together and call on the government to act in order to prevent future incidents.

Metrorail’s regional manager Richard Walker said that it was unacceptable that employees should be subjected to such danger in the line of duty.

“We can no longer stand by while our employees are assaulted, stoned and shot at. We will assist with the police investigation and trust that the perpetrators will face the full might of the law.”

He said despite regular arrests by Metrorail Protection Service officials, the attack against rail infrastructure continued with no consequences.

Donald Grant, MEC for Transport and Public Works, said: “Criminal elements entering into our rail network are a serious concern. Criminal activities of this nature threaten not only Metrorail’s ability to run a safe and reliable public transport system, but also the livelihood of many who rely on the service.

The fact that Metrorail’s efforts to secure their rail assets are met with such extreme violence is deeply concerning, and should be worrying to us all. I hope that the injured official recovers speedily, and that these assailants are brought to book soon.”

Mr Walker said Metrorail has called on police to put all their resources into finding the perpetrators.

Ms Scott said a preliminary docket of attempted murder was opened at Bishop Lavis police station but Mr Nelani will provide a full statement once he is
able to.