Terror at testing grounds

2017-01-12 10:39
Michelle Forsyth from Pinetown was allegedly verbally intimidated by Pietermaritz-burg driving school owners and instructors at the Mkondeni testing grounds.

Michelle Forsyth from Pinetown was allegedly verbally intimidated by Pietermaritz-burg driving school owners and instructors at the Mkondeni testing grounds. (Supplied)

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A terrifying experience at the Mkondeni testing grounds on Tuesday has not deterred a Pinetown driving school instructor from returning there.

Michelle Forsyth told The Witness on Wednesday that she was sitting on a wall while waiting for one of her students to be tested when three men came up to her and started asking her questions.

“They asked me if I was from Pinetown, if the driving school car was mine and if I owned the driving school.

“I answered yes to all their questions and all of a sudden their body language started changing and they became really aggressive,” said Forsyth.

She said they started shouting at her and asking what she was doing at Mkondeni and why she did not test her students in Pinetown.

She said she could not make out some of the things they were saying to her because they were speaking in both English and Zulu. “They told me that I was not allowed to bring students for tests there as I was an outsider. It was the most horrifying thing I have ever encountered.

“I got off the wall I was sitting on and walked away from them into the room where students do their applications,” she said.

One man, whom she described as being big and tall and assumed was the leader of that group, followed her into the room, where he told her he wanted to talk to her. Two more men came into the room and closed the door behind them, standing guard. “He spoke to me calmly trying to explain why I had no right to be there but then he and the other men started shouting at me because I was not agreeing with them,” she said.

She said eventually they moved from the door and she managed to escape but one man tried to grab her by her shoulder. She managed to get away.

“What's even more saddening is that not one of the law enforcement officers there helped me. I was on my own surrounded by about eight men at one point who were screaming, shouting and threatening me,” said Forsyth.

She said the men went as far as blocking her student’s testing vehicle as he was about to start the test with the traffic department inspector inside the vehicle.

“Nobody said anything, not even the inspector or the officials. They were just looking at me from their cubicles.

“The man I spoke to said I had to formally apologise to them for coming to Mkondeni and wanted me to promise that I would never come here again before they allowed my student to get tested,” she said.

She said her students are usually from around the Pinetown area and they are the ones who choose which testing grounds they want to use.

“I have been in this business for the past 15 years. We go to Estcourt, Mooi River, Stanger and Eshowe and never in my life have I ever been in such a situation,” she said.

She said she refuses to be bullied by the men and will continue to test her students wherever she pleases. She said she would be accompanying another student who will be tested at Mkondeni on Friday.

She said she reported the matter to the Special Ops Unit within Mkondeni verbally and via e-mail and they responded by saying they will view video footage and investigate the matter, but she also plans to open a case with the police today

Chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg association of driving schools, Mdu Ngcobo, admitted that he was part of the group of men.

Ngcobo denied that they intimidated or attacked Forsyth verbally, saying they were just trying to explain to her how the newly formed associations operate.

“She did not want to hear anything about the associations. She stood up and started shouting at us while we were calmly explaining the situation to her,” said Ngcobo.

Ngcobo explained that associations were formed throughout KZN and they all fall under the umbrella association called Ubumbano.

He said the reason these associations were formed was because they were worried about the increasing number of fly-by-night driving schools and the inconvenience it caused for Pietermaritzburg people when they book for testing dates.

“Our students get dates as far as two months away and it also affects our business,” he said.

He said there was a recent agreement within the umbrella Ubambano association that all driving schools should do driver’s tests within their jurisdiction.

He said they are not stopping people from outside the Pietermarizburg jurisdiction from testing at Mkondeni.

“It was agreed that if a student from Durban or anywhere else wants to test in Mkondeni or outside their jurisdiction they have to be accompanied by a driving school from the area they want to test in, that’s all,” explained Ngcobo.

Spokesperson for the Department of Transport Kwanele Ncalane encouraged Forsyth to open a case and said there is not much the department can do to assist her until she does so.

“We have to wait until she opens a case. As a South African citizen she has every right to open a case if she feels she was threatened or intimidated,” said Ncalane.

When asked by The Witness if there were any legal reasons or prohibitions on people from out of town doing their licences at Mkondeni, Ncalane was unable to comment.

Further efforts to contact him to get comment on this were unsuccessful because he did not answer his phone again.

However, an officer from Mkondeni who refused to be named said there is no law preventing people from getting tested wherever they want to and is convenient.

An RTI official who cannot be named also confirmed that the testing station can be used by anyone in the country as it was a government entity and not a personal asset.

“They had no right to try and chase away a driving instructor from another area,” he said.

The official said the Mkondeni testing station is not only meant to be used by Pietermaritzburg driving instructors and is open to anyone “no matter where they come from”.

Woman sees Mkhondeni attack

The Witness was contacted by a traumatised woman who had witnessed another woman being verbally attacked and grabbed by a group of men at the Mkondeni testing ground on Tuesday.

The woman said she saw the men shouting and screaming at the woman, taking her into a room closing the door behind them and all she could hear after that was screaming.

“I told the security guard what I saw but he seemed unbothered by the situation,” said the woman who asked not to be named.

She said she was so distraught by the incident that she left the testing grounds, fearing what would happen next.

The Witness later learnt that the woman who was attacked is Michelle Forsyth who owns a driving school in Pinetown.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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