Drivers fear for their lives as buses are besieged

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Stranded passengers left behind as buses come under attack

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Every night, Xolani* has to hide at a friend’s house because he fears for his life as an AB350 bus driver.

Over the past three months, government-funded buses have been besieged, allegedly by local bakkie drivers and taxis in Matatiele, Centane, Cofimvaba and Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.

Buses were pelted with rocks, bus drivers were robbed at gunpoint, and community members, including pensioners, were unloaded from buses.

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As a result, the company said, eight of their buses were currently parked at Butterworth depot, while there were five parked at Willowvale and three at Centane.

Xolani (37) said they are now afraid to stay in their residential areas: “We stay in the same place where our buses are parked. At night, I always go to sleep with friends because there have been threats to burn us with the buses.

Sometimes you find people kicking our door open at night and threatening to kill us.

“Just last week I was driving through the Thafalofefe area en route to Butterworth when a group of bakkie owners blocked my path and others started shooting into the back of the bus. I am now stressed because the buses are no longer running and I will not be able to afford to buy groceries,” he said.

Another driver said the bakkie owners who transport people from their villages to the city said he was responsible for the buses that were still operating in the area.

“I tried to explain to them that I was just an employee and following orders, but it fell on deaf ears. As a result, I now get private calls late at night from people threatening me. The bakkie drivers want us to use the Centane road, meanwhile, when we get there, the taxi drivers fight us because it’s not our road. I need this job because I have a family to take care of. However, if it continues like this, I will either lose my job or die,” he said.

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Last year, News24 reported that the company’s 155 buses carried more than 500,000 passengers each month. A company source said one of the problems was that these were government-funded buses and some taxi owners also wanted a piece of the pie.

“It is very unfortunate that these fights affect not only the bus company but also innocent souls. For example, pensioners pay no cents when they go to town,” she said.

AB350 CEO Mava Dada said the attacks had caused the company to lose around 12.5% ​​of its monthly turnover: “We have 16 workers who were affected by the attacks and more of 340,000 passengers who are affected.

Manelisi Siguqa, provincial secretary of the Eastern Cape Bus Council, said the attacks had been taking place since 2009.

He said:

There are 23 buses that have been burned from 2009 to date. During the first years after 2009, the situation was under control, but in March this year the problem intensified due to the instability of the economy. Normally the roads are blocked by bakkie drivers who force passengers out.

He said the situation was worse in Joe Gqabi and Amathole areas.

“We transport people from rural areas to the city. Elderly people and traditional chiefs do not pay.

“It affects us very badly, because now we have to sleep not knowing what will happen tomorrow. We don’t want to point fingers at anyone and no one wants to take responsibility. We talked to taxi owners about it. So now we have decided to stop working because of the risk. Our goal was to serve vulnerable communities, especially for people in rural areas. Taxis only work on paved roads,” he said.

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Eastern Cape transport and security spokesperson Unathi Binqose said the department was very aware of the turf wars.

“As a result, there was a statement that the ministry released condemning these actions. There was an attempt to bring all parties together, and former MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe had sat down with the taxi industry. She had called the bus industry to try to arrange a meeting between the two parties and that has yet to happen. But there has been a deployment of law enforcement, traffic wardens and police in some of the sensitive areas. Thus, during the high season, we had increased security in these areas. We feel the real solution will come when we bring all the parties together under one roof. We are looking for lasting solutions to these problems,” he said.

*Not his real name


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