By KWANELE SIBIYA | 2021-10-14
PUBLIC transport operators yesterday brought the country to a standstill when thousands of commuters, including pupils were left stranded in Mbabane, Matsapha, Manzini and Siteki.
Despite the militancy and provocative stunts by the public transport operators who burnt tyres and blocked access to the bus ranks, security forces made up of police, correctional services and the army maintained their cool and only maintained law and order. During yesterday’s protest, despite being of great inconvenience to commuters, the towns remained peaceful but tense as businesses decided to close to avoid looting and vandalism of property.
In Manzini commuters were treated to a movie-like scene as the bus and kombi conductors burnt tyres on the road and blocked traffic with stones, logs and other debris. As a result, thousands of commuters were left stranded without transport to ferry them home from as early as 8:30am until late in the evening.
Business also came to a standstill as almost all the shops within the city centre were closed as the owners feared that their properties might be caught in the cross fire and either be vandalised, torched or looted. So serious was the situation in Manzini that parents had to run around looking for their children who were caught up in the protests. By early evening, commuters were still organising private transport to ferry them home.
The drivers and their conductors gathered at the exit point of the Manzini Bus Rank and barricaded the entrance, refusing any vehicle to either leave or enter the bus terminal point. Negotiate The rowdy crowd sang songs and whistled each time they saw a public transport vehicle trying to negotiate its way into the bus rank. The commuters were forced to walk all the way from as far as Manzini to Matsapha and back, a distance of about five kilometres, while others walked from Moneni to the city.
All buses and kombis were parked along the main roads at Nazarene and along Ngwane Street as operators continued with the protest at the bus rank. One commuter, Velile Mkhonta said she came all the way from Siteki aboard a kombi, but it did not reach the city centre. "When we reached Moneni, we were told to alight and walk all the way to town because the driver was scared to take us in," she said.
Another commuter who only identified himself as Gama, said he had to walk from town to Nazarene to hitch-hike to Eteni. Another frustrated commuter, Sonto Tsabedze said she had told her daughter not to go to school at Ngwane Park yesterday because she feared for her safety after rumours started doing rounds on Tuesday that the public transport operators were planning to engage in a protest.
"I hitch-hiked from Mhlaleni to Manzini because I had no choice. I had to go to work. However, my daughter could not take that risk. I told her to remain at home because I was not certain about the availability of public transport today," she said. Even in Mbabane, many public transport users had to walk to and from town or find alternative transport. They were picked up by some sly kombis along the way from town.
The kombi operators have threatened to continue with their protest action even today until their demands were met. Meanwhile, information gathered was that the public transport operators are demanding a salary increment, the deduction of Swaziland National Pension Fund from their salaries, a new bus rank and the release of jailed MPs Mthandeni Dube and Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza, amongst other demands.
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