Taxi fare protest turns violent

Protesters burn tyres at KwaDukuza, north of Durban, after two taxi associations implemented fare hikes yesterday. Violence broke out as police tried to restrain residents by using rubber bullets and teargas, with scores being arrested. Picture: Bongani Mbatha

Rubber bullets, teargas and water jets were used to disperse thousands of commuters in KwaDukuza, who blocked streets while protesting against taxi fare increases introduced in the town on Monday.

The Kwadukuza and Dolphin Coast Taxi Associations implemented the increase in fares in Shakaskraal, Kwadukuza (Stanger), Umhlali and Ballito.

Residents said notices of the increases, which they had not been consulted about, only appeared on taxi windows on Friday. The increases vary, with a trip from Shakaskraal to Ballito increasing from R4.50 to R7.

Commuters from Shakaskraal and surrounding townships began their protest peacefully, congregating at the Shakaskraal Clinic Park in the morning. Later they burnt tyres in the streets and blockaded the road, preventing vehicles from moving throughout the morning.

The situation got worse after police officers arrived and began shooting rubber bullets into the throng. Officers also released teargas and sprayed water from a tanker on the crowd, sending people running for cover.

Several protesters stoned police vehicles.

Police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said the situation had become “volatile” as the morning wore on, with several people being arrested for public violence.

Shaken residents, who congregated in the park after the morning’s events, said police had “besieged” the area.

Commuter Vusi Cele said: “We were peacefully marching down the road when the police showed up. They shot rubber bullets at us and we ran into the bushes to hide. We did not do anything for the police to treat us this way; we’re just not happy with the increases.”

Shakaskraal Clinic sister Thiloshnee Sass said the clinic had treated 40 people, while some with serious injuries were taken to hospital.

Ilembe mayor Welcome Mdabe said he had been in a meeting on Monday night with police officials to release 160 residents who had been arrested.

He also met the taxi associations to resolve the clash with residents. He said community representatives, ward councillors and the associations would meet at the Ilembe Hall tomorrow.

KwaZulu-Natal Transport Alliance secretary Bafana Mhlongo said that fuel price increases had necessitated taxi fare hikes.

“We are not doing this to make a profit. We want to also maintain our vehicles so that they are safer for passengers. The government has failed to subsidise the taxi industry, despite taxis being the most used form of transport. We would not have fare increases if it was subsidised,” he said.

However, commuters should be informed of price hikes two weeks in advance.

The taxi associations were not available for comment on Monday night. – The Mercury


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