By Zwelihle Sukati | 2019-09-28
Absolute chaos at its worst! Burning tyres filled the small town of Malkerns with smoke and rubbish bins littered on the road.
although police cannot confirm parents say a teargas canister exploded inside a classroom packed with pupils at St. Andrews Primary.
Some of the children were rushed to Mankayane Government Hospital after kombi conductors allegedly raided the school to remove them from class while at the same time helping themselves to their food, sidonono.
Huge concrete blocks, logs and stones were used to block the road, literally brining the town to a standstill. This was the situation yesterday at Malkerns when kombi conductors and drivers went berserk in protest over traffic police officers.
The ferocious protest had riot police compelled to use teargas canisters, water cannons and having to fire shots to disperse the extremely violent public transport workers as the public watched in horror. The rioters were the least intimidated at first as they retaliated with stones and pelted the armoured riot squad.
The chaos lasted for the better part of the day as it started in the morning hours. What sparked the protest, it is said, was the continuing arrest of public transport drivers servicing the Malkerns route for traffic offences. To them, the rate at which they were time and again found to be on the wrong side of the traffic laws was an orchestrated move aimed at victimising them.
When one kombi driver was charged for traffic offences yesterday his fellow colleagues went mad. Information gathered is that the Kombi driver refused to pay the spot fines and was taken in. It is alleged that he was slapped with a number of charges.
As such, all traffic to and from the Malkerns direction was derailed. Other kombi workers were forced to join the protests.
No kombi was allowed to service the Malkerns route as a sign of solidarity. Public transport commuters were dropped off their vehicles like bad habits, leaving them stranded. There was no other option but to hitchhike. The town centre resembled a warzone as the protesters had assembled in their numbers hurling all sorts of insults, chanting and throwing anything they could lay their hands on to the road.
The situation reached its apex when riot police from the Operational Support Service Unit (OSSU) once again drove in to disperse the protesters. This time around they had more back up and meant business.
Everyone was warned to stay clear off the road as their armoured vehicles slowly moved in towards the chanting public transport operators, some of whom appeared by then to be heavily intoxicated and armed with half-filled beer bottles.
The burning fire on the road was first to be put out by the water cannon and the rioters started to retreat. Armed police officers charged in firing some shots and teargas canisters. Spectators also ran for cover. The kombi workers, however, would time and again regroup to retaliate and that was when the men in blue became more aggressive as they came in all directions with more shots being fired.
Teargas smoke filled the air while some members of the public took cover from some of the nearby shops. Pupils were spared from all the commotion as they were forced to run for cover.
Commuters, motorists held to ransom
Most hard hit by the protest were commuters in school going-children.
As much as some watched the action others were left stranded with no transport home as the action lasted until near sunset.
The general public could not be spared and the only option was to hitchhike. Worth nothing is that primary schools around the area were affected. While some pupils were caught in the middle of the fracas, since their classes ended at the time the action was at its peak, some were still in class.
Local Kombi Association blames traffic cops
Ambrose Dlamini, the secretary of the Local Kombi Association, says the police are to blame in manner in which they treat their employees.
He said even though they haven’t received any formal report on what transpired but as public transport operators they find fault with the police. “As much as this took us by surprise and we haven’t gotten a report from the boys nor from the police, I can safely say that the manner in which our employees are charged and arrested for traffic offences is very wanting,” Dlamini pointed out.
He said the police a this tendency of ambushing public transport by way of having a plain clothed police officer at a distance to monitor them and then communicate with his uniformed colleagues along the road. “And when they are charged, they are hauled to court where they pay hefty fines. Because they don’t have money they will call us as their employers to fine them out. Now, the problem could be that we then deduct the money from their salaries and I think this is what gets them angry because they feel treated unfairly by the police.” Dlamini said the ambush tactic by police was not fair as they amounted to them being treated as criminals. He said when they engage their superiors they are always promised that these issues will be looked into but the junior officers do exactly the contrary.
Conductor says this is solidarity with PSAs
One kombi conductor who was not part of the protest action said this was an orchestrated move in solidarity with the on-going strike by civil servants.
He said talks were making rounds to that their parents who were employed by government needed their support in their fight for the cost of living adjustments. “Some were while others were not in support as they considered the strike more political. However, I knew something would come out of this,” he said.
“We are targeted by police officers every day and you ask yourself why riot now,” he went on.
However, Local kombi Association Secretary Ambrose Dlamini refuted the allegations of solidarity with civil servants by the local kombi employees.
He said the protest by the ‘boys’ had nothing to do with the civil servants strike as they have no interest in the matter involving government and its employees.
“Following talks making rounds that kombi drivers and conductors were being enticed to participate the civil servants demonstration, we called them to a meeting and reasoned with them and they understood.
Therefore, this is between the traffic police officers and our employees,” Dlamini said.
We are not teachers to mess around with, say transport workers
This is one of phrases that featured most when kombi drivers and conductors clashed with the police during their protest action at Malkerns yesterday, meaning ‘we are not to be mistaken for the teachers you bully around’.
Police Information and Communications Officer Superintendent Phindile Vilakati confirmed reports of the confrontation with the public transport employees.
“We are compiling details of what sparked the feud,” she said at the time of compiling this report last night.
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