Tabelo Timse, Sbongile Dimbaza and Nomahlubi Sonjica HERALD REPORTERS
A BID to end the taxi strike that has crippled Nelson Mandela Bay for three days will be made at a high-level meeting today.
SACP district secretary Zukile Jodwana said last night the ANC alliance and taxi owners would meet this morning to discuss an alliance proposal regarding the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system at the heart of the strike.
The action has stranded thousands of commuters, seen vehicles stoned and torched and buildings petrol bombed, including two clinics and an ANC office.
“There have been engagements between the alliance and taxi owners and there are positive signs that we are coming closer together to reach an amicable solution,” said Jodwana.
“The taxi owners raised a number of issues and we presented a proposal which we wanted them to consider.
“It is after the meeting that they will decide whether to continue with the strike or not,” he said.
As opposition to the strike grows, the regional ANC Youth League and MK Military Veterans Association expressed concern at its effect on “ordinary people”.
“We are therefore calling upon all responsible citizens within the taxi operators to reconsider an action that prevents a worker to go to work, pupils to go to school, emergency staff not to go and help the vulnerable communities in health institutions,” they said in a joint statement.
“We wish to reiterate our call that under no circumstances can we fold our arms when the masses of people find themselves in this humiliating situation.”
Thousands of taxi commuters are now relying on trains for transport.
Metrorail regional manager Claudia Williams said the company had seen a 25 per cent increase in train commuters since Monday.
“On Monday we introduced a shuttle train that operates from Swartkops to Uitenhage and back, because we have noticed a high volume of train commuters in that area,” she said. “An extra train from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth was also added during the morning and afternoon peak hours.”
Metrorail has also added an additional 35 to its 100 train guards.
College student Andile Thethani, of Khayelitsha in Uitenhage, said: “Since the strike started on Monday, I had to leave my house at 3am every day to walk from Khayelitsha to Uitenhage where I catch a 5.30am train to Port Elizabeth. Normally I take a taxi at 7am to Port Elizabeth, but I‘m not complaining because the train is much cheaper, safer and more reliable than a taxi.”
Another taxi commuter who had to take a train during the past three days is Eunice Godwana a domestic worker in Summerstrand. “I walk for an hour from where I live to the Swartkops train station where I‘ll catch an 8.10am train to town. I come late every day at work but my boss understands that there is a taxi strike.”
Angry Siyabelela Bunny, of KwaZakhele, said he was no longer going to commute by taxis anymore.
“I wish Metrorail would build more train stations and add more trains. It is safer and more reliable than a taxi.”
Bunny said taxi drivers were selfish and unfair in not telling commuters when they would strike.
“If we knew, we could have arranged other means of getting to work on time. What is also unfair is that the taxi drivers are threatening to burn buses that operate in the township.”
Williams said Metrorail would also introduce a Saturday service from the first week of March. “We are busy renovating some of our stations and will introduce a new train station in Motherwell in the next financial year.”
Shock and panic were the first emotions of patients arriving to fetch their medication at Motherwell‘s NU8 and NU2 clinics yesterday, as they were turned away because the clinics were petrol-bombed on Tuesday night.
Seething residents condemned the attacks as the work of “unruly hooligans” in the taxi industry.
“What have we done to deserve this? What are we going to do?” asked an angry Nomisile Valeni.
“I was here early in the morning before 6am to queue. I‘ve brought four clinic cards to get medication for my three children and husband. My children all suffer from asthma and my husband has high blood pressure. Today is their date to get tablets.”
Nonkululelo Tana, who lives next to the clinic, said she noticed smoke coming out of it just after 8pm “and quickly went to the public phone to call police and fire services”.
As firefighters tried to put out the blaze, “people were throwing stones but stopped when police arrived”.
She said people started queuing for medication from 3am.
The NU8 clinic was badly damaged and the municipality has confirmed that it will be closed temporarily.
However, volunteers at the clinic continued treating TB patients who had arrived for check-ups and also visited those who had no transport.
The NU2 clinic was not badly damaged, but patient files were gutted.
Nandiswa Smanga said she feared for her nine-month-old asthmatic baby Bathobele. “I have been taking him to this clinic since he was born. His asthma gets really bad and I am scared he will get sick tonight.
“My hope is that when I call the ambulance, it will arrive in time.”
Lucas Matomo, 84, who needs medication for high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, said: “I stood here for more than 30 minutes while it was raining hard, refusing to believe that the clinic is closed.”
An administrator at the Motherwell ANC office, Sipho Ngcaba said he was woken by his cousin at 9.30pm informing him the office was on fire.
“The police confirmed the fire was caused by a petrol bomb. It burnt shutters in the kitchen and no extensive damage was caused.”
In Cape Town, thousands of commuters were left stranded when National Taxi Alliance members prevented taxis and some buses from taking people to work, leading to the defence force being placed on alert.
There were also reports of striking drivers preventing people from boarding trains and buses.
In Nyanga, journalists were stoned and several cars damaged.
Additional reporting by Khanyi Ndabeni
source: The Herald