Fed-up traffic cops revolt

2012-11-15 00:00

WHILE Pietermaritzburg motorists battled rush-hour traffic yesterday morning — exacerbated by a bus which broke down at the Chatterton Road traffic circle — the traffic officers they needed to ease their plight were instead protesting elsewhere.

The officers had blockaded the gates to their offices and allegedly set off teargas canisters to prevent administrative staff from working.

The Msunduzi traffic officers downed tools, saying they were forced to use old cars that were not roadworthy.

They also wanted consistency in the deregistration of officers with criminal records.

They argued that while more than 20 officers had criminal records, only 10 were deregistered.

The officers toyi-toyiied at the Msunduzi traffic department’s Washington Road headquarters, demanding to see Mayor Chris Ndlela. They refused to negotiate with the municipal management, who they claimed had repeatedly failed to address their concerns.

The traffic officers denied using teargas to force their colleagues to join their protest action, but the allegation was confirmed by municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma.

The Witness learned recently that the officers had refused to drive several patrol vehicles, saying they were not roadworthy.

They showed The Witness 29 vehicles in varying states of disrepair, which they were expected to use on duty.

An officer described his hair-raising experience when the steering wheel came off in his hands while driving.

“I was terrified. Fortunately there were no cars following me closely, or else I could have caused a serious accident,” he said.

Another vehicle is said to have rolled back and hit another police vehicle in Mountain Rise last month due to a faulty handbrake. “We were hoping that we will get new cars when the council bought brand new vehicles recently, but were surprised to learn that the department heads sent a report which stated that the vehicles were in good working condition,” said one officer.

“It has become very difficult for us to enforce bylaws and motorists accuse us of using non-roadworthy vehicles when we are supposed to be the ones setting an example,” he added. Officers said they were not allowed to work on weekends and public holidays, because of budgetary constraints.

They also called for the removal of two senior traffic department officials, who they accused of not having the department’s interests at heart. A traffic officer, who asked not to be named, said that with the festive season looming they were working without breathalysers.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said an inspection of the municipal fleet had recently been carried out and vehicles identified as obsolete were auctioned off.

“Prior to this visit, all units were directed to identify vehicles that were redundant for disposal purposes.

“All vehicles identified by units were approved by senior management for disposal.”

Nkosi said the 29 vehicles had probably not been identified, or else they would have been included among the assets to be disposed of.

He said the officers’ complaints to the media about the cars was “cheap politicking with certain motives”.

Nonetheless, he said, the municipal management was aware of the problem and was working towards remedying it. He said the council had declared an amnesty period ending in July this year, during which motorists would only pay half of their fines.

Sixty percent of this money was earmarked “to acquire the tools of the trade for the traffic department, which included, among other things, vehicles”.

The amount collected was still being calculated, he said.

Zuma said yesterday’s protest was deemed an illegal gathering, so the mayor had declined to address the officers. However, he encouraged them to use the proper channels to air their grievances.

THE disgruntled officers said the vehicles — some of which were bought in 1990 — were not just accident damaged. Many had mechanical problems associated with ageing and poor maintenance.

Among the problems cited were malfunctioning wiper blades, oil leaks, expired license discs, noisy ball joints, faulty brakes, rust, radiator leaks, no battery clamps, a loose grill, an accelerator tied with a piece of wire, smooth tyres, un-adjustable driver’s seats, no handbrakes, no starter, no head lamps, leaking exhausts, no stop lamps, leaking windscreen, defective speedometer, defective hooter, bodywork needing attention and over-heating engines.

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