Calls of frustration echoed through eMbalenhle the past week when commuters were stranded because of the ongoing disagreements between Vukanini Taxi Association and Megabus.
Only the death of three taxi drivers ensured that a relative calm returned to the township.
Vukanini Taxi Association, Vukta as they are called, barricaded the town of eMbalenhle when negotiations broke down over transport rights in the area.
Sibanonyi said that they had met with Megabus earlier this year and asked the company to stick to their agreement of operating with only 110 buses.
He claimed that Megabus refused to decrease its fleet, citing that it would be forced to retrench drivers.
“The company claimed it had employed more people and each bus had three drivers designated to operate. Those drivers were working on a shift basis. But we complained to them that their action was pushing us out of business. We then met again on Monday, together with government officials, we outlined our problems with Megabus. On Tuesday, two of our drivers were arrested for no reasons by the police. On Wednesday, when we were in town to meet with our lawyers, our drivers decided not to operate and parked all our cars at a taxi rank in eMbalenhle,” he said.
Sibanyoni said that the killings were sparked by their ongoing disagreement with a passenger bus company Megabus, which is operating in various parts of Secunda.
He claimed that the company was pushing the taxis out of business.
Sibanyoni said that the bus company was increasing its fleet of buses in the area, despite their agreement, five years ago, that it would only operate with 110 buses and leave space for taxi operators.
“Since the company is getting subsidy from the provincial government, it wanted to use that as an opportunity to kill the taxi business here in Secunda. Some of their passengers, including school children, ride for free because of government subsidy. The company later added 59 more buses to increase its fleet to 169. With such a number of buses operating in our area, there is no way that we were going to earn a living and our vehicles were going to be repossessed and drivers would be unemployed,” he said.
The Provincial Commissioner of police in Mpumalanga, Lieutenant General Mondli Zuma has strongly condemned violent protests that occurred in eMbalenhle and in the same breath, welcomed the arrest of 29 suspects in connection with the violence.
“When police were conducting their operation as per duty-bound to maintain peace, they were shot at and defended themselves. The member that was shot at, was driving a marked police car and the car was stoned by the protesters before he was shot. Earlier in the morning, six (6) trucks were hijacked and these trucks were used to blockade the exits and entrances to eMbalenhle. What worries us is that one of the trucks that was carrying chemicals and there are specific instructions on how to handle such trucks. If not handled accordingly, we could be dealing with a disastrous situation.” The General said: “South Africa is a country that is governed by laws and people cannot do as they wish. Our country is not a country where people can parade their lawlessness and inhuman behaviour. We cannot allow this situation of anarchy to continue unabated. People are allowed to protest within the ambit of the law. no one is allowed to break the law despite unresolved matters that one faces. People must try to make use of proper channels to resolve their issues rather than perpetuate violence to get what they want.”
An emotional Sibanyoni claimed that members of the police Tactical Response Team, popularly known as Amabherethe, had arrived at the rank and ordered drivers to lie on the ground before opening fire on them.
“All those TRT officers covered their faces with black cloths and opened fire at our members, unprovoked. One of our drivers was shot in the head and killed by a female police officer for only looking at her in the eyes. The officer asked him why he was looking at her, before shooting him with a machine-gun in the head. Two died on the scene and two later died in hospital. Our members were ambushed by people who were supposed to protect and ensure that there is peace between us and Megabus,” Sibanyoni said. “We are not a violent association and will not avenge their deaths, we will rely on our law to play its part. We want all those police officers who killed our men to be arrested and sentenced. We are living under a democratic government, not an apartheid one.”
The Bulletin, while reporting from the scene, observed taxis driving around on more than one occasion and heard gunshots from their direction. It is not clear if the gunshots emanated from the taxis but it came from their direction. Several people told The Bulletin that they saw the drivers with firearms.
The court orders that Megabus obtained were flatly ignored until the violence erupted and drivers were hurt. One Police officer was also shot. He sustained wounds in his arm and hand.
Megabus Operations Executive, Jasen Smallbone said that they are not aware of any agreement reached with the taxi association.
“Megabus operates under a contract with the Department of Transport and have not expanded our services. We currently operate in terms of the authority of our permits. Megabus has obtained a court order preventing the taxi association from interfering in our business. Police are currently investigating the case,” said Smallbone.
Only time will tell if violence will erupt again.
- Encee van Huyssteen