Alleged rail line theft bid

Man sent for mental observation.

An elderly man, who tried to steal more than 30km of railway line between two Karoo towns and then sell it, must be sent for mental observation.

Andries “Oom Dries” Marais, 74, of the Strand in the Western Cape, and Bhekuyise Damane, 50, of Queenstown, appeared in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court yesterday.

The state alleges that, during 2008, the two men conspired and forged documents in an attempt to pretend that Marais had acquired more than 36km of the railway line, including rails, sleepers, panels, bolts and other track material between Rosmead and Steynsburg near Middelburg in the Eastern Cape. The material, worth more than R23-million, was the property of Transnet Freight Rail.

Marais then allegedly sold more than four truckloads – about 104 tons – of the railway material to a scrap metal dealer in Stellenbosch.

The matter was postponed to March 2 as Marais will be sent for mental observation. In court yesterday, Marais said he did not have any objections to being sent to the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Town.

“I will not deny that something is perhaps wrong with my head because I was kicked by the police,” he said.

Marais is serving an eight-year sentence in Cape Town for fraud while Damane was warned to return to court for his next appearance.

It is the state’s case that Marais approached a scrap metal dealer in Port Elizabeth in January 2008 and informed him that he had acquired around 100km of railway line from Transnet in the Teebus area. He then allegedly offered to sell the track material to the dealer.

The dealer requested proof that Marais was the lawful owner of the railway line. It is alleged that Marais then contacted the area operations manager of Transnet Freight Rail in Port Elizabeth pretending to be a farmer interested in purchasing track material forming part of the line between Rosmead and Stormberg.

On May 19 the manager sent an e-mail to various Transnet employees, which was eventually forwarded to Damane, who was a protection official stationed at Transnet’s security department in Queenstown at the time. The e-mail related to Marais’s interest in acquiring the railway line.

The state alleges that Marais and Damane then met and Damane later sent an e-mail responding to the e-mail, informing his fellow employees on the e-mail thread that Marais had visited him and that he confirmed that rail material had been removed.

Damane allegedly opened a new e-mail and typed above the last message that Marais had purchased the railway line and all its steel construction. While Damane did not send the message, he allegedly printed the entire e-mail string, signed it and handed it to Marais.

Marais then allegedly offered the document as proof that he had purchased the railway line and offered to sell it for R5-million. However, the scrap metal dealer insisted on having a Transnet representative available during the dismantling of the line.

Marais later allegedly concluded a second sale agreement with Star Metals in Stellenbosch and offered a company called Nelesco 886 a third of the value of the line for the dismantling, uplifting and transportation of the rail material to the Western Cape.

– Lee-Anne Butler 

Leave a Reply