Soweto’s flames of fury

SHELL SHOCKED: Two burnt-out buses lie wrecked outside a depot in Dobsonville after they were set alight by angry protesters yesterday. Picture: Mujahid Safodien

Five Putco buses were gutted, a sixth partially damaged and a bus driver sent to hospital as angry commuters vented their frustration in Dobsonville yesterday.

And, while police set up a cordon, three men casually strolled past them and placed an incendiary device inside a bus that burst into flames.

The incident started at about 5.30pm at the corner of Elias Motsoaledi Road and Van Onselen Street, opposite the Dobsonville Shopping Centre.

“People started stoning the Putco buses and set them alight. One driver was hit in the face and taken to hospital,” said police Captain Mpande Khoza.

He said the attack seemed to have been sparked by a price increase, with monthly tickets going up by as much as R70.

Putco bus drivers last night feared for their safety as they watched from their depot, 30m from the incident, as firefighters doused the flaming buses.

“Drivers will show up tomorrow, but I’m not sure that anybody is going out on the road,” said one Putco driver.

When tempers started fraying, bus drivers called the nearby Jabulani police station.

“At the end of the day, it was two policemen, and they could do nothing but watch,” said another Putco driver, who witnessed the torching.

“It was a big crowd. They said they want more buses. Then they set the bus alight.”

A police source, who was one of the first at the scene, said only one of the buses in the cluster of three was set alight. A bus just a metre away also caught fire. With police officers in attendance and trying to control the crowd, one neatly dressed man flanked by two others walked nonchalantly up to a third bus and stepped inside.

“I just saw them come running back, and when we looked again, the third bus was on fire,” said the policeman.

An hour later, the buses were reduced to molten metal and ash as the fire destroyed the hulks. A grey mass stood where a steering wheel and driver’s seat once was as the gutted bus let out a final hiss.

A fourth bus with a blackened side could be seen further up Elias Motsoaledi Road, while even further away, two more buses stood destroyed.

The policeman said it had been impossible for the initial police units to stop the angry crowds as the officers carried only live ammunition. He added that police at local stations did not have access to rubber bullets, which are kept in an armoury for public order policing units.

“If we shoot at people, then we’re accused of taking lives in protecting property that can be replaced,” he said.

One person, who was spotted throwing rocks at the buses, was arrested last night. A 40-year-old suspect was expected to appear in the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court today on a charge of malicious damage to property, police said.

Putco employees said the incident was sparked by commuters demanding more buses on the Kya Sand and Northriding routes.

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