Government must act to stop attacks on long-distance buses, Parliament told
Ongoing attacks on South Africa’s long-distance buses, allegedly by members of the taxi industry, are endangering the future of the bus industry.
South Africa will have a tough time trying to explain to the international community if a tourist were to be injured or killed in one of the ongoing attacks on Intercape buses.
This was the warning from Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira in his presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Tourism on Tuesday.
The purpose of the presentation was to give Intercape’s perspective on acts of criminality and extortion, allegedly carried out by taxi operators, that are disrupting long-distance bus travel in South Africa.
The presentation came two weeks after Ferreira briefed the Standing Committee on Transport on Friday, 5 August. He painted a bleak picture of the levels of extortion that are crippling operations and putting long-distance passengers and staff at risk.
Tuesday’s portfolio committee meeting was chaired by Tandi Mahambehlala. The president of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), Abner Tsebe, tendered an apology for not attending the meeting and requested another slot to accommodate the organisation.
Ferreira told the committee that Intercape and other bus companies had been under attack since 2015. These attacks, he said, were intimidatory, with taxi operators approaching buses and preventing passengers from embarking and being dropped off.
Many meetings were held in 2016/17 and 2018 with no result. At the time, taxi associations questioned the validity of the permits of bus operators.
Attacks ‘have escalated’
Ferreira said that attacks escalated from 2019 and were not just directed against Intercape, but against all long-distance buses operating in the Eastern Cape. Since 2019, Intercape had sent letters to various government stakeholders and provincial transport entities, but no help came, he said.
The latest attacks were in the Western Cape on 3 August and on 20 August, when five bullets were fired at a bus.
On the interaction with taxi associations, Ferreira said: “I can assure you that Santaco will say their members are not involved. There was a meeting held in the Eastern Cape. It was not only attended by Intercape, but all bus companies operating out of the Eastern Cape.
“The three gentlemen that introduced themselves represented taxi associations in the Eastern Cape, Johannesburg and Western Cape. They told the bus operators what fees they must charge, the timetable the bus should be running at and the number of buses that should operate. These taxi associations also have the ability to switch these attacks on and off.”
Preventing Intercape from operating in most parts of the Eastern Cape was, Ferreira said, “cleansing” the area, “getting rid of a competitor because you can’t compete with them”.
‘Acts of terrorism’
He expressed concern that there was no coordination on a national level. “As far as I’m concerned, there is no long-term solution. If there is no national intervention, these perpetrators will take their acts of terrorism to other provinces.”
The committee heard that since Intercape and other bus companies had been blocked from operating in the Eastern Cape, taxi operators had bought buses and were now rendering these services.
Intercape reported this to the authorities and a bus was impounded in Cape Town because it had no legal authority to carry passengers. The bus had a charter permit from the previous owner which expired in 2020.
Elaborating on how the attacks on Intercape coaches posed a threat to tourists, Ferreira said: “I don’t have to tell you what will happen if a coach gets shot and an overseas tourist gets injured or killed. Bear in mind, shooting incidents in Cape Town happen in broad daylight.”
One of the shooting incidents occurred at 5pm about 500m from the border of Cape Town International Airport. The shooter was standing on a bridge on the way out of the airport towards Cape Town. It could have been a coach carrying tourists, Ferreira said.
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“The matter we are facing is of national importance. I believe this is a matter the President should take cognisance of and I would demand that this committee would bring the two portfolio committees to the National Assembly and let them answer these issues. It is high time for the government to take these issues and come back with a solution,” he said.
Ferreira said that talks with committees, radio stations or the media were not going to save lives. It was only the action of the President, his ministers of transport and police and anti-crime units that would put an end to the extortion, racketeering, collusion and attacks.
Committee member Lusizo Makhubela-Mashele said: “We need to put every life as important, hence the situation needs to be arrested. From this meeting, we should select an audience or try to get engagement with portfolio committees of Eastern Cape and Western Cape so that we try and get synergy and do not work in silos.”
Hannah Winkler of the DA said it was important to engage with all stakeholders and that it was a pity that Santaco was not present. “This issue is becoming more and more prevalent, more of a crisis. We must find a lasting and amicable solution.”
Hlanganani Gumbi of the DA said a large part of the issue was criminal conduct.
“We should put our own pressure on [the ministry of] transport and police and even intelligence. As a portfolio committee, we should write to those committees informing them… it affects tourism, but a lot of these issues fall within their realm and they should deal with it.”
In response to questions from committee members, Ferreira said: “There is no long-distance bus association; we tried to form one to form a united front against these bus attacks. I decided at a point in time to not continue with the membership of Intercape because Intercape decided not to negotiate with the taxis, not to agree on prices they determined, and [not to agree to] their demands to hand over the keys of the company to the taxi associations, who would be effectively running this company.
“Intercape is a private company, it has never received any subsidy from the state. It has outperformed parastatals subsidised by the state and succeeded through Covid-19, just to come out to be terrorised by an industry that has effectively got nothing to do with long-distance bus operations.”
‘Bad reflection’ on SA
Chairperson Mahambehlala told Ferreira the committee would take the matter up at the level of Parliament and would initiate a meeting between the transport and police portfolio committees.
“The safety of South African people is very important when they visit provinces by bus. This time around there is a demand for buses because flights have become very expensive. We are taking this responsibility because what was presented to the portfolio committee will reflect badly in the international community that wants to visit our country,” she said.
She also took a swipe at Santaco’s no-show, saying: “I don’t want to say it was a pity that Santaco isn’t here. I want to say, now I understand why at the last minute Santaco decided to pull out of this platform, because it was also an opportunity to come here with Intercape and do their presentation. So perhaps they anticipated that Intercape would raise many issues and allegations levelled against their people.”
She gave an undertaking that during this parliamentary sitting, the Portfolio Committee on Tourism would meet with the Portfolio Committee on Transport and bring Ferreira along so that he could also make a presentation to them. DM