Hours of mayhem

Police and traffic officers keep an eye on a MyCiTi bus wreck on the N2. Motorists were forced to seek alternative ways after the busy road was closed following the incident.

While Monday’s violent taxi strike was called off after less than 12 hours, for some commuters and their families, the strike left permanent scars.

A number of people, including innocent civilians, were injured during a day of mayhem which saw buses being torched as well as delivery trucks being stoned and properties damaged, with damages running into millions of rands.

The strike centred on the election of a new leadership for the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), an umbrella body for all taxi associations in the country.

Some internal “constitutional processes” have been described as the driving force behind the strike that began on Monday morning. The strike, however, was called off in the afternoon following a meeting between Transport MEC, Donald Grant, and leaders of the affected taxi associations.

But during the few hours that the strike was being observed, at least one Golden Arrow bus as well as a MyCiTi bus were torched, with the strike action having a major impact on parts of Nyanga and Philippi, as well as Khayelitsha, Mfuleni and Delft.

A Golden Arrow bus was set alight in Delft, while a MyCiTi bus was torched on the N2 next to Luzuko, forcing a complete shutdown of the busy freeway.

Several other buses and delivery trucks were damaged as the strike turned violent in Philippi.

Delivery trucks, mainly on Govan Mbeki Road, between New Eisleben Road and Steve Biko Drive, were targeted as taxi drivers and opportunistic looters went on the rampage.

Armed with stones, looters stood at the intersection, targeting trucks and other goods vehicles.

Vukani was nearly caught in a hail of stones when the looters attacked a truck on the corner of New Eisleben and Lansdowne roads. But quick thinking by the driver saved his life when he made a U-turn, doubling back into New Eisleben Road after having driven into the chaotic Lansdowne Road.

In another incident a driver was forced to abandoned his truck on the Klipfontein Road. Looters opened the truck, but were stopped in their tracks when the driver returned with Metro police officers.

Meanwhile, thousands of commuters were left stranded.

The usually busy taxi ranks in Nyanga and Site C were quiet, with a few taxi bosses keeping an eye on proceedings.

Helpless commuters jostled for space on trains at Heideveld and Nyanga train stations, while those around Khayelitsha were deserted. In some areas commuters were forced to return home.

Ncebakazi Mbanga from Langa had to go home after a bus dropped her on Mew Way. She works in Makhaza, but all the bus services to the area were suspended and her bosses were reluctant to pick her up from Mew Way.

“I have lost the day’s work,” she said. However, she understood the reasons for the protesting. “In South Africa that is the only way to get people to listen to you,” she said.

Another passenger, Thembisa Qwani, lashed out at Golden Arrow for not being upfront with commuters. Ms Qwani was forced to return to Khayelitsha after failing to get a bus to Hout Bay, in Wynberg.

“I lost two clips for nothing today,” she said. However, she conceded that the buses were soft targets whenever people protested. She said the bus was initially attacked in Site C. But they had hoped things would improve. However, in Wynberg, they were informed that buses would not go into Hout Bay.

“By God’s grace we are back,” she said.

A group of other passengers, working at Cape Gate Mall said they had been forced to abandon plans to go to work after their bus came under attack in Kraaifontein.

They hitchhiked to Site C after failing to get taxis or buses to Khayelitsha.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said four MyCiTi buses were stoned in Mfuleni, Khayelitsha and Dunoon.

He said costs relating to the damage had not yet been determined.

Golden Arrow spokeswoman, Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, said the company was still counting costs associated with the protest. In addition to the bus that was set alight in Delft, she said 150 windows of a number of buses had been damaged, with 50 passenger and driver injuries reported.

She condemned the attacks on the buses, but praised their drivers for assisting in difficult conditions.

“These acts of vandalism are of grave concern to us as our passengers are simply trying to get to work so that they can support their families,” she said. “Stone-throwing can result in serious injury and even death.”