Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula wants the "might of the law unleashed" on those responsible for the destruction of South Africa's rail infrastructure.
"The jig is up," he told the National Assembly on Tuesday.
He was speaking in an urgent debate on a matter of national interest on the topic of "the impact on the economic lives of the most vulnerable and poor of commuters due to ongoing damage to public rail infrastructure".
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina said the attack on public infrastructure is sabotage.
"The torching of trains, theft of signalling cable, theft of track, damage to stations and theft of equipment do not only cripple the service intended for the poor, but creates an untenable situation where the taxpayer is expected to foot the bill for replacing such stolen and damaged infrastructure," said Mbalula.
"We are a democracy founded on the foundations of human rights and the rule of law. All our interventions must ensure that the rights of those who rely on the commuter rail system are protected and respected.
"In the same vein, the might of the law must be unleashed on those who continue to destroy and steal public assets for their narrow, self-serving ends.
"Our rail system continues to be a target of theft and vandalism, senseless attacks on employees and private security while on duty, and sabotage."
He said the reality is that "security-related incidents in the rail environment are out of control and need urgent attention".
He said a new security plan was recently unveiled and this plan is premised on developing the requisite internal capability and capacity to mitigate and combat theft and vandalism of rail infrastructure.
The plan is premised on the following:
1) Internal security capability for armed response, control room operations and increasing the number of physical security officials;
2) An e-guarding solution for the protection of mission-critical assets, including substations, relay rooms and sites for global system mobile communications for the railway environment, with early warning security technology and defensive security systems;
3) Specialised investigation services, with legal support and access to a criminal laboratory; and
4) The deployment of drones to conduct virtual patrols of high-risk infrastructure.
Opposition speakers blamed the ANC government for the crumbling rail infrastructure, particularly the management of the corruption-plagued Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).
FF Plus MP Corné Mulder said, if they want to find the "real crooks", Prasa is where they should start.
In response to ANC speakers' references to economic sabotage, Mulder said: "What the ANC has done to our economy, that is real high treason."
DA MP Chris Hunsinger pointed out that there have been four different ministers of transport in the past five years.
"While many staff and employees at Prasa are trying their absolute best to make things work, as an organisation, Prasa has lost its passion and relationship with rail and commuters," said Hunsinger.
Mbalula said: "I want to admit that Prasa has been ravaged, has been run down, has been a mess."
He said law enforcement agencies are dealing with those who have run down the organisation.