/ 11 January 2023

After being forced to suspend services, Intercape to resume in Eastern Cape

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Photo by: Peter Titmuss/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Long-distance bus company Intercape will resume its operations in five Eastern Cape towns after accepting a joint action plan outlined by the provincial traffic department, the police and the transport department to grapple with criminal attacks.

“There is a plan of action on the table which has been prepared by the MEC [member of the executive council] for transport in collaboration with the police and the minister of transport, which indicates that we can begin operating from these towns again,” Intercape said in a statement. They include Cofimvaba, Butterworth, Engcobo, Tshomo and Idutywa.

This comes after the Makhanda high court on Tuesday dismissed Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s appeal against a 2022 judgment ordering the minister to draw up a plan that will ensure the safety of drivers and passengers in the province. 

In response to a Mail & Guardian inquiry, Intercape said as far as it was aware, the joint action plan had already commenced.

“Based on the initial and amended action plan prepared by the MEC and the further input by the minister during December 2022, it is understood that the implementation of the action plan is already underway,” spokesperson Lindiz van Zilla said.

Both Mbalula’s office and that of the Eastern Cape’s MEC for transport, Xolile Nqatha, declined to comment on the plan because both offices are still studying Tuesday’s judgment. 

Last year, Judge John Smith ordered Mbalula and Nqatha to coordinate with the South African Police Service (SAPS) a workable action plan to stop violent attacks on long-distance coaches. 

Nqatha outlined a plan by 28 October, but Mbalula applied for leave to appeal Smith’s ruling. On 14 December, by means of a court order, Intercape successfully compelled the minister to contribute to the safety plan pending the finalisation of his appeal.

This week, Smith stated in his ruling: “The minister’s resistance to cooperation with the provincial authorities is rather surprising, particularly having regard to the fact that our constitutional dispensation is founded upon the principle of cooperative governance.”

Van Zilla told the M&G that Intercape expects Mbalula, Nqatha and police to “fulfil their duty and ensure that transport is safe going forward, including in the no-go-zones. Should they fail, Intercape will take further legal action to ensure that the responsible persons are held to account.”

Intercape said it would follow “the same legal approach” with Police Minister Bheke Cele as that  taken against Mbalula because “both have failed in their constitutional obligations and we are turning to the courts to force them to act”.

Last Thursday, Nqatha warned taxi operators that they would  face “the might of the law” should they continue with illegal roadblocks that threaten long-distance drivers.

“We cannot allow a situation where we have an illegal law enforcement structure that runs parallel to what our government seeks to achieve, tormenting and extorting money from our people,” said Nqatha. 

He also called on all state law enforcement agencies to take “tough action” against illegal roadblocks. 

Intercape reported 18 attacks on its buses nationwide, of which 10 occurred in the Eastern Cape since first approaching the court in September. 

More than 150 violent incidents against long-distance bus operators were recorded across the country in the 13 months up until May last year. Incidents included shootings, stonings and intimidation by so-called rogue taxi associations.

“Disappointingly, there have still been no arrests made in respect of the numerous criminal cases registered with the SAPS in the Eastern Cape,” said Van Zilla, adding: “There has been a single arrest in the Western Cape and that suspect is out on bail due to insufficient evidence. We find this completely unacceptable and totally inadequate.”

The police in the Eastern Cape did not respond to media inquiries.