20 September 2011
3 people shot in kombi operators’ riot
MANZINI - Three people were shot by the police as approximately 1 500 public transport workers took to the streets yesterday calling for the release of a colleague who had been fined E6 000 for a traffic offence.
Two of these were members of the Local Kombis Association and a woman. The men were treated while the woman was admitted at the Releigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital.
Ten police officers were also rushed to hospital after being pelted with stones by the operators.
This formed part of the violent scenes as the kombi drivers and conductors took to the streets demanding the release of their colleague who was arrested for picking up passengers at a bus stop in Mbabane. Sikelela was sentenced to six years imprisonment with a fine option of E6 000 for illegally ‘ranking’ at the Mbabane Government Hospital bus station last week.
Reports on Sunday had indictated that the operators had decided against the protest but from as early as7:30am yesterday, a group had assembled next to Build It hardware store near the Mzimnene River and decided to proceed with the protest.
After a brief meeting, the workers blocked the road leading to the bus rank using pallets. The drivers and conductors who were singing and dancing were mainly targeting kombis servicing the Manzini/Mbabane route.
They then moved their ‘roadblock’ to a restaurant situated within the bus terminus, where they mobilised other workers to block any kombi from driving out. Chaos started at about 8:10am when a reporter from the Swazi Observer, Samkelo Ngwenya was seen taking pictures of the blockade.
The seemingly agitated workers pounced on him with the intention of snatching his camera.
He was saved by the quick intervention of the police who pulled him away from the crowd which was threatening him with violence.
Notably, Ngwenya was not the only journalist who was threatened with violence during the cause of the day. The already out of control workers went to Meintues Street where they placed tyres across the road, which were later burnt.
The public transport workers would occasionally sit on the road while being addressed by their leaders and employers. When police came closer to listen to their speeches, they threw all sorts of missiles at them.
In retaliation, the police, who were in riot gear, fired teargas canisters with the intention of dispersing them. At some point, the police also used a water cannon to spray the resisting workers who were seemingly prepared to meet ‘fire with fire’.
The protest took a new twist at around noon.
Approximately 200 workers marched from the bus rank to the Nazarene bus stop which is about two kilometres from the city centre. Upon reaching the bus stop, they threw stones at public transport vehicles found transporting passengers. Police who were already at the station, fired teargas and used the water cannon once again.
Elsewhere around the city, some of the protesters spilled refuse bins on the road and used concrete slabs to block roads leading out of the city.
While all this was going on, police had to fire rubber bullets at some of the workers at the bus rank who were throwing missiles at them.
Commuters, pedestrians and some of the police were injured during this skirmish which lasted for about 20 minutes.
The Local Kombis Association has pleaded with public transport workers to abort the strike action.
In an interview, Chairman of the association, Sibusiso Mthimkhulu said they have urged the workers to return to work today while they sort out the problems regarding the arrest of their colleagues.
"We were asked by the Road Transportation Council to meet over the issue in finding a way on how the workers who were arrested could be released," he said.
Mthimkhulu said they were planning on paying the fines for the two workers which amount to E8 000.
In another development, the chairman passed his sincere apologies to their customers for the inconvenience caused by the protest action.
"This was beyond our control. However, we are working towards finding a lasting solution," he said.