The aftermath of the PMB taxi strike

2018-01-29 10:16
The wreckage of the car that was set alight by protesters in the CBD on Thursday.

The wreckage of the car that was set alight by protesters in the CBD on Thursday. (Supplied)

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WATCH: Pietermaritzburg shop looted during taxi strike

2018-01-26 16:24

CCTV cameras captured the moment Just Take Away in Thomas Street, Pietermaritzburg, was looted during a strike by minibus taxi drivers on Thursday. Watch. WATCH

‘We’re not full of hooligans’

The uMgungundlovu Regional Taxi Council leadership has warned criminals and politicians to stop trying to hijacking the taxi operators’ strike.

“We work in a very sensitive industry where we should always ensure that people remain calm and level-headed because inciting violence could lead to a loss of lives and that is something we have to try and prevent at all costs,” regional chairperson Bheki Sokhela said on Friday.

He was reacting to reports that numerous shops were looted during Thursday’s strike and that the taxi drivers wanted Msunduzi’s Mayor Themba Njilo to be removed from his position.

He said he had heard that some drivers intervened when “whoonga addicts” tried to loot shops around the city.

Sokhela said when the group of taxi operators descended on the City Hall he could not recognise many of the faces. He said some “opportunists” were clearly there with a different intention and they were not even part of the taxi industry. “It’s true that it is hard to get everyone under control when you are dealing with a large group of angry people but I can assure you that most of the destruction that you saw had nothing to do with the industry strike,” he said.

Sokhela said it was unfortunate that some taxi operators might have been incited to join in the shouting of the slogans that called for Njilo’s removal and allegedly looted shops, but that was never the aim of the strike. “We are in the taxi business, not politics so whoever is the mayor is up to the party that wins the elections, not us. So I must emphasise that whatever tensions or rivalry issues there are in the political space have nothing to do with us.

“I’m warning those who are trying to hijack our cause to stop, for the sake of peace in this region, please stop,” he said.

Sokhela said the only thing that the operators were unhappy about were the fines for traffic offences and that Njilo often participated in the road blocks where some of the fines were issued. “We are not saying that transgressions should go unpunished but the tariffs are too high. Surely there must be another way,” he said.

He urged taxi drivers to honour the agreement that was made with Njilo that a response to their demands will be received by Thursday.

“We have to show that we are level-headed people and honour the seven days we committed to. If we start more chaos no one is going to take us seriously. Some people already think that the taxi industry is full of hooligans. Let’s prove them wrong,” said Sokhela.

Caught in the act, Lucky Dlamini and Lucky Biskode appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Friday charged with assaulting two policemen, public violence and resisting arrest. They were arrested on Thursday during the taxi protests that gripped Pietermaritzburg. Both will remain in jail until their next appearance on February 6.

‘Meet our demands, or else,’ say drivers

TAXI drivers are threatening a repeat of destruction and mayhem if their demands for leniency in the payment of traffic fines are not met by Thursday.

The taxi operators’ strike brought the city to its knees on Thursday as they demanded that their traffic fines be cancelled and the tariffs for fines be reviewed as they feel they are too high.

Some shops were looted in the process but the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) has distanced itself from theft and vandalism committed during the strike.

Most taxis operated on Friday even though business was slow as many commuters had made alternative transport arrangements. This came after rumours that some operators wanted to continue to hold the City ransom as a way to pressure the Msunduzi Municipality into a favourable response to their demands.

However, some of the drivers who spoke to Weekend Witness on Friday said it would have been foolish to continue striking when Mayor Themba Njilo had committed to giving them a response on Thursday.

“We are not against paying the fines but the traffic officers are charging us ridiculous amounts that we simply cannot afford. The fines come in the driver’s name so the owners don’t pay them, but we don’t get paid if we don’t work,” said Sicelo Zulu.

Mbongeni Zondi, a rank marshal from KwaPata, said the taxi operators are now waiting to hear from the municipality.

“If we do not get a favourable response by Thursday, it will be bad. We will go back to the streets,” he said.

Some disgruntled taxi operators made threats to shut down Edendale Road on Friday afternoon.

Taxi owners, however, vowed to crack down on those who would try to close the busy road which connects numerous townships to town. “The agreement is that we wait for Thursday,” said a taxi owner who was camping out with other taxi owners at Imbali Crossing.

“We are here to make sure that no one blocks the roads. Another group is in town, making sure that everything runs smoothly,” said the taxi owner, who asked not to be named.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said a joint operation team has been established and is on high alert with contingencies in place in case the strike erupts again. The team comprises  the police, Road Traffic Inspectorate, traffic officers, the City’s own security and other stakeholders.

While there were still piles of litter on Edendale Road on Friday afternoon, Mafumbatha said cleaning up the City’s streets after the strike did not require any extra time.

The cleaning team collected about 20 tons of waste, which is what they normally pick up on a night shift refuse collection.

“The main problem was the concrete bins toppled onto the gutters almost everywhere and particularly opposite the Fire Station and on the corner of Retief Street and Pietermaritz Street where bins were thrown in the middle of the streets presenting a danger to traffic. A specialised grab truck was necessary to replace the toppled and scattered bins,” she said.

Business owners outraged

Business owners are outraged at the looting, violence and intimidation that unfolded during Thursday’s taxi strike.

By 11 am most businesses on Pietermaritzburg’s major streets had closed their doors as word got out that a group of angry taxi operators were making their way to the City Hall.

The group left a trail of destruction in their wake, costing some business owners thousands of rands in damages.

Just Take Away’s owner, Rafik Ameen (70), ran and hid at the back of another shop when the mob broke the glass door to gain access into his shop. The group took all his stock, a microwave, a fan and a cash register.

“I thank the Almighty that I’m okay,” Ameen said on Friday.

He had not calculated how much the looting cost him but emphasised that he was just grateful that none of his staff was injured.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night because when I got home it really hit me what nearly happened,” said Ameen.

An employee who was on duty when the mob hit the Ideals clothing store on Church Street said the incident shook them.

She said they had not anticipated the violence because they thought the strike had nothing to do with other industries.

“When they came here they broke the glass window and the glass door and kept shouting, “Why are you open? When they came inside the shop they took everything they could get their hands on, clothes, handbags, you name it and we just stood there and watched because there was nothing we could do,” she said.

She said she saw many “whoonga addicts” who hang out on the neighbouring streets come into the store with the mob because they saw on opportunity to also steal. “Some of the taxi drivers who came a few minutes after were obviously against the looting because they asked if we were okay and went and collected some of the stuff that had been stolen and brought it back to the shop,” she said.

Another Ideals employee said they were not against the taxi strike because the operators had a right to protest but the violence was uncalled for.

“There are strikes in different industries all the time but you don’t see them destroying people’s property and stealing. I also don’t understand why we must close our businesses just because they are unhappy about traffic fines,” he said.

‘Where were the police,’ ask angry PMB residents

As Pietermaritzburg residents widely criticised the role of the police in Thursday’s violent taxi protest, police on Friday denied there were not enough officers on hand.

They have also appealed to the public for help in identifying those responsible for the mayhem.

Witness readers took to Facebook to express their dissatisfaction with the police’s performance during Thursday’s violent taxi strike.

Lisa-Anne Kearney Wade said, “There were no police! Where were they? We as ratepayers and residents of Pietermaritzburg deserve an explanation as to why no police were seen trying to control [Thursday’s] horrendous violence! In all the pictures and videos seen ... I never saw one policeman. Riot police should have been there or even the army! Why were no videos or pictures seen of the police firing rubber bullets and arresting protesters? Hundreds of people questioned where the police were …” she said.

Buhle Shezi responded by saying she had witnessed the police “shooting rubber bullets and pouring teargas” in the midst of the protest action.

Rose Smuts was watching Thursday’s “chaos” from an office which overlooks Moses Mabhida Road and Jabu Ndlovu Street.

“Motorists were scrambling to get out of the CBD and avoid the drunk taxi drivers. I saw one female RTI who disappeared after 19 minutes, and two police officers who left the scene shortly thereafter. That was at 8.40 am. No further police were seen for the rest of the day. An irresponsible disgrace. Law abiding people were left in a dangerous situation,” said Smuts.

Colleen Potgieter asked “Why do we pay rates and taxes if we don’t get the protection when it’s needed ...?”

Maureen Govender said it seemed as though the police and fire department went into hiding when all hell broke loose.

“I was calling the police when it escalated onto our street. I disconnected the call when I saw a police vehicle coming through, only to find out that the vehicle just drove past while these [protesters] were looting and attacking the street vendors. People that rely on taxi services were affected the most,” said Govender.

Shamila Naidoo said the army should be deployed because the police were “too frightened to do something”.

However, KZN police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said there was enough manpower deployed in the Pieter­maritzburg area. “The allegations that the members responded late or were scarce are not true.” She said two suspects were apprehended.

“We are appealing to community members who might have information about the suspects involved to contact the local police or our Crime Stop on 08600 10111,” said Gwala.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson, Thobeka Mafumbatha, said 25 traffic officers were deployed to monitor the situation on Thursday, including four traffic inspectors and three traffic superintendents.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  taxi strike  |  crime  |  transport

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