/ 11 August 2008

Commuters torch buses at KwaMhlanga

About 5 000 commuters torched more than 21 Putco buses early on Monday on Moloto Road in KwaMhlanga, near Cullinan. Putco said it would cost about R36-million to replace the buses.

The southbound lane of the road was reopened later in the day. Police arrested 15 protesters and breakdown trucks were busy removing the buses from the road.

Sergeant Miranda Stoltz told the Mail & Guardian Onine that the buses were burnt following confusion about tickets.

”Apparently they [commuters] got the wrong information about the tickets. Putco buses sent out a message stating that no tickets were on sale, so they could use the buses for free, but someone sent out the wrong message.”

One of the commuters, Mandla Mthembu (38), said the buses were torched and vandalised by commuters who were fed up with the way Putco operated in the area.

”We were angry when the bus tickets were not sold. Some of us didn’t go to work and Putco is unreliable and we don’t have other means of transport,” he said.

Matlakala Manota, spokesperson of Putco, said on Monday it was unclear why commuters didn’t know about the free bus service. ‘There must have been some miscommunication, but we don’t know yet why people didn’t get the message.”

According to Manota, the ticket problems started when 17 ticket sellers were suspended on suspicion of fraud and replaced by new sellers two weeks ago. ‘The new ticket sellers were intimidated and that’s why they, over the weekend, decided to stop working.”

Because people were unable to buy tickets and didn’t know that they could use the buses for free, commuters started looting and setting buses on fire, said Manota.

Manota says the first buses were set on fire just after 7am on Monday. No one was injured and no arrests have been made.