MAYHEM erupted as hundreds of striking taxi drivers ran amok early yesterday, hurling stones at offices and passing cars, attacking municipal workers, setting a vehicle alight, blocking rush- hour traffic and crippling businesses in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Amid widespread condemnation over the wave of violence, urgent talks between city officials and taxi representatives collapsed late last night with defiant drivers vowing the wildcat strike would continue today, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.
Police, who yesterday drafted in reinforcements including the crack flying squad and rapid response unit members, will be on “high alert”. Police Captain Rassie Erasmus declared: “We will not let taxi drivers hold the city to ransom”.
The drama unfolded yesterday when more than 300 taxi drivers opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system being implemented for the 2010 World Cup blocked major roads including the N2 freeway near Bluewater Bay and the Uitenhage road near Vista University.
Police arrested six people for public violence and confiscated “a number of taxis blocking the roads”. Motorists were left fuming in long traffic jams while many commuters were unable to get to work.
Traffic police and SAPS vehicles were stoned while a municipal vehicle was set alight outside Brister House in Govan Mbeki Avenue.
Police spokesman Captain Johann Rheeder said about 30 men ran up to a municipal car and smashed the windows. “They poured petrol on the car and set it alight.”
Yesterday‘s havoc follows an orgy of violence and looting, which raged in several parts of the city last November, leaving one person dead and others injured.
Nelson Mandela Bay municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said last night: “These violent actions do not belong in a peace-loving society.”
He added that workers at a BRT construction site in Govan Mbeki Avenue were attacked and offices stoned.
However a defiant metro public transport forum spokesman Melekile Hani told The Herald last night: “We are pledging our solidarity to our comrades. We are not going back to work! Until the municipality agrees to suspend work at BRT sites, and we secure the release of our arrested comrades, the strike continues. We apologise to commuters, but they must understand we are at war!”
Meanwhile, Port Elizabeth Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Odwa Mtati said the strike had “succeeded in causing maximum disruption” to businesses. “The shock of it was that no warnings were issued, so it‘s been very disruptive, especially since large parts of the industry only re-opened on Monday.”
The motor industry, particularly General Motors SA, was hit hard. GMSA spokesman Denise van Huyssteen said: “We are disappointed by the surprise strike, which has impacted on our ability to assemble vehicles.
“We only resumed full operations yesterday following a four-week break. Such actions send negative signals about doing business in this country, particularly at a time when we should be promoting political and economic stability.”
Eveready “definitely felt the impact of the strike”, spokesman Curt Bosman said. “Our workers on the afternoon shift have to leave earlier because they won‘t find taxis later, so we‘ll have to stop production. We might not even have nightshift.”
The DA also condemned the violence and chaos. Eastern Cape transport spokesman Pine Pienaar said: “The situation is just not acceptable”.
Kupido said the strike was especially disappointing “since this disruptive behaviour followed after an important meeting on Tuesday between the mayor and the industry.
“A task team consisting of representatives of the taxi industry and the municipality was established with the sole mandate to prepare for a transport indaba which will address the concerns of role-players in the industry.
“Despite this progressive step, some members of the taxi industry still went ahead with strike action and as a result inconvenienced many commuters who unfortunately rely solely on public transport.”
source : The herald