Angry bus commuters in Hammanskraal set fire to a local minibus taxi association’s office on Wednesday in an attempt to stop taxi drivers from barricading the R101 route to Pretoria with burning tyres.
The taxi drivers were protesting against the implementation of a deal the local taxi associations clinched with the city to terminate trips from Wonderboom into the CBD.
The protest left commuters stranded as the operation of buses was also brought to a halt. Some bus drivers parked their buses at the depot because they feared for their lives.
Commuter Elsie Ditshego expressed disappointment that the protest had forced her to stay away from work.
“The taxi association’s office was burnt in the morning by some community members who were angry that the roads were blocked,” she said.
Taxi drivers affiliated to Hato taxi association said they blocked the road to vent their frustration over the agreement signed between their association and the city in 2017, stipulating that commuters from Hammanskraal would be dropped off at Rainbow Junction Station in Wonderboom to board buses to the CBD.
The new arrangement was thanks to an agreement between the city and the three taxi associations operating in Hammanskraal, Stinkwater, Eersterust and Ga-Mokone, in terms of which taxi associations were to be compensated for the 10 kilometre distance they would forfeit by terminating their rides at Wonderboom.
Drivers, who declined to be identified, said the implementation of the agreement had resulted in their earnings being slashed. They claimed some drivers who used to take home R1000 a week were making a measly R150. According to them, the losses were due to the restrictions in operating on the inner-city roads, which meant they didn’t make enough money.
They blamed one of the executives at Tshwane Rapid Transit, Abner Tsebe, saying he was instrumental in sealing the deal with the City without consulting them. They also alleged Tsebe had threatened to kill them if they dared transport passengers beyond Wonderboom.
Tsebe dismissed the allegations, saying he had never made death threats to any driver.
“I don’t know any of the things you are talking about,” he insisted. “How can I kill drivers as their leader? I am a leader. I am not a killer.”
Regarding the salary cuts, he said: “That one is an issue that falls under the association.”
One of the drivers said: “If we were still able to take home the same salary as before we were not going to have a problem with the agreement.”
Another driver asked: “Why can’t they give commuters options to use whatever mode of transport they would prefer?”
Police spokesperson Captain Mabela Masondo said the situation in the area was tense but the police maintained their presence to keep it under control.
No one was arrested in connection with the burning of the office.
In the wake of the protest, MMC for roads and transport Sheila Senkubuge convened a meeting with representatives of taxi drivers and Tsebe in an effort to end the impasse.
Senkubuge said following the introduction of the A Re Yeng Bus Transit System between Rainbow Junction and the Tshwane CBD, minibus taxi operators were compensated for loss of revenue.
“We are here to engage the relevant parties and get to the bottom of what could have triggered this.” she said. “We were of the view that channels had been opened for us to engage with the various taxi associations.”
According to Senkubuge minibus taxi operators were compensated for loss of revenue following the introduction of the A Re Yeng Bus Transit Transit between Rainbow Junction and the CBD.
“The agreement is that they ferry passengers from Hammanskraal and drop them off at Rainbow Junction,” she said, “where they will board the A Re Yeng Bus Transit system to various parts of the CBD.”
There were taxi operators who weren’t adhering to the agreement.
“We have been engaging with the operators to ensure they meet their end of the agreement,” she said, calling on residents to exercise calm and restraint following the early dawn protests.
“As a result of this and taking into consideration the safety of commuters and A Re Yeng staff, the City will only be operating a partial service in the inner city,” she said.