Pandemonium erupted in Ladysmith in the early hours of this morning (Monday, 8 January) as protestors flung petrol bombs at buses and several shops were looted. Several vehicles were damaged and at least one was set alight, while roads were barricaded by violent protestors.
This comes in retaliation of the six month taxi suspension implemented by KZN transport MEC Mxolisi Kaunda, leaving commuters all but stranded and taxi bosses angry.
His call for the suspension came after continued taxi violence in the Ladysmith area between rival associations vying for the same route. Taxi owners subsequently resorted to using private vehicles to transport passengers, to which Kaunda threatened them with arrest of drivers and vehicle owners.
The Pieters / Colenso, R103, between Onderbruikspruit, Roosboom, Helpmekaar towards Ezakheni and parts of Driefontein/ Burford were affected.
Ladysmith law enforcement were apparently warned that several roads would be closed all around Ladysmith. A message circulating in Zulu caught the attention of the police, the Road Traffic Inspectorate and Public Safety, saying that the roads would be closed. The message said that the community was suffering because of the taxi suspensions and that private vehicles were also not allowed to transport passengers, saying that people living in rural areas suffered the most.
Ladysmith and surrounded areas were thrown into violent turmoil, as protesters petrol bombed five buses at the Driefontein/ Watersmeet Bus depot. Several shops in St Chads were looted and a foreigner, travelling along the Helpmekaar Road in the Ezakheni area, was pulled from his vehicle, which had been set alight. In another incident a truck driver was also pulled from his truck, which was damaged by protestors. The driver was nowhere to be found.
“Huge fires and bellowing smoke could be seen from the roads, where I was staying and I was a little scared, so I stayed indoors,” said a commuter, who was seeking alternative transport to work.
At the Skietdrift turn-off, outside Ladysmith on the R103, police were clearing the roads of burned debris while patrols continued. SAPS, RTI and Public Safety remain on high alert.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance has condemned the violent protests, calling for the intervention of the minister of police, Fikile Mbalula. Uthukela Consituency head Alf Lees said that the DA “unequivocally condemns” the blockading of roads into Ladysmith and the burning of buses. The actions are in direct consequence of the Transport MEC, Mxolisi Kaunda’s unprecedented banning of all mini-bus taxis of members of taxi associations,” said Lees.
Lees said that the party in December warned that the unilateral banning was not the answer to the violence and murders associated with some taxi operators. “This action has brought hardship on all commuters into Ladysmith and the Alfred Duman Municipality in general. This has been made worse by the negative impact on the economy of the area and the consequent impact of the poor,” said Lees.
“The taxi industry plays a vital part in transporting commuters to and from their homes, schools and work places and the taxis industry in an integral part of Alfred Duma Municipality and facilitates the few jobs that are available to our people.”
Lees said that the blanket ban on the hundreds of taxi operators and drivers associated with the two associations is a clearly unwarranted punishment of innocent operators and drivers who had absolutely no participation in any violence at all.
“Despite a month having passed since I wrote to the minister of police Fikile Mbalula to request details of the action that SAPS have and are taking in the Alfred Duma Municipality to arrest and charge all the persons involved in the violence and murders apparently resulting from rivalry, I have not even had an acknowledgement of receipt.
“Even if he was on holiday in Dubai, the situation is so serious that he should have given the matter his full attention. The DA once again calls on Mbalula to comply with his Constitutional obligations and to urgently intervene,” said Lees.