Police use tear gas, stun grenades as protest over taxi cards turns violent

2016-03-17 11:10
Fires illuminate the shields of two Public Order policemen as they clear rubble from the entrance of France township on Tuesday evening after people protestingagainst the use of taxi cards fled the scene. Police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd wielding rocks and sticks.

Fires illuminate the shields of two Public Order policemen as they clear rubble from the entrance of France township on Tuesday evening after people protestingagainst the use of taxi cards fled the scene. Police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd wielding rocks and sticks. (Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - The new taxi card system that taxi commuters are protesting the use of, will benefit passengers and should be welcomed. That’s the view of Grange and Westgate Taxi Association chairperson Nhlanhla Nkomo.

Protesters wielding rocks and sticks barricaded the entrance to France township, outside Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday following protests against the taxi card system.

Machines were installed in taxis following a decision by the Grange and Westgate Taxi Association who said the taxi card system would benefit commuters. However, some commuters and taxi conductors said the card system would cause inconvenience among passengers and drivers as well as cause job losses among taxi conductors.

Angry protesters attempted to storm moving taxis several times to remove the card systems from the vehicles.

Each time, protesters were warded off by police while shaken taxi drivers and their passengers drove off nervously.

Protesters began throwing rocks at the police and two Witness reporters on Tuesday evening while chanting, “journalists must fall”, and “cameras must fall”.

Chaos erupted a few minutes later with protesters creating a burning barricade of branches and tyres at the main entrance to France, while the crowd continued to throw rocks at the police.

Protester Simphiwe Ndlovu said on Tuesday that they didn’t want or need the card system in the taxis.

“They are forcing us to use these cards but we don’t need them. We want to take the card machines out of the taxi,” he said.

“What if people are visiting relatives in France and do not have the taxi cards? How will they catch a taxi?

“The taxi conductors will also no longer have jobs with this card system,” he said.

After 20 minutes of protesters throwing rocks, police fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades to disperse the crowd and then began to clear the road of rubble and debris.

Nkomo said those protesting against the use of taxi cards had misunderstood their function.

“We are trying to explain that it will benefit commuters but people are not willing to be part of the transformation,” said Nkomo.

“Everyday, we see passengers who could benefit from using a card where they pay weekly instead of trying to find money each day.

“There are some people who have been without proper employment for over 16 years, and elderly men and women who need to go into town to fetch their pension but do not have money on them. The card will help them.”

He said those who said taxi conductors would lose their jobs with the installation of the cards were “wrong”.

“Taxi conductors are needed not only to collect money, but to help passengers into the taxi, to operate the door and to arrange luggage.

“They are absolutely still needed and will not be jobless at all,” said Nkomo.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said there were no arrests and no injuries had been reported.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  protest  |  taxi  |  violence

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