No end in sight to taxi turf war

Lesotho Times - - News - ’Man­toetse Maama

The Maseru Re­gion Trans­port Op­er­a­tors (MRTO) are ap­peal­ing to gov­ern­ment to en­gage their South African coun­ter­parts and end the bloody clashes which have been rag­ing be­tween Le­sotho and Free State taxi op­er­a­tors over the past 15 years.

MRTO spokesper­son, Le­bo­hang Moea, yes­ter­day told the Le­sotho Times that both the Le­sotho and South African gov­ern­ments had not done enough to end the dis­pute, which has seen taxis be­ing dam­aged and in­no­cent pas­sen­gers and driv­ers be­ing as­saulted.

Af­ter the two fac­tions clashed in June last year, Le­sotho taxi op­er­a­tors had stopped fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers from Maseru to dif­fer­ent South African des­ti­na­tions but af­ter be­ing is­sued an in­terim or­der on 19 March 2015 by the high Court of South Africa Free State Di­vi­sion to con­tinue with their op­er­a­tions, had re­sumed the cross-bor­der travel on Mon­day this week.

how­ever, as soon as they had crossed the Maseru Bridge Bor­der Gate, the op­er­a­tors were con­fronted by the Free State op­er­a­tors and stopped from pro­ceed­ing into South Africa.

The taxi driv­ers were or­dered to take their pas­sen­gers back to Le­sotho and never carry pas­sen­gers into South Africa again, lest they be pun­ished for it.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Moea, the South African gov­ern­ment and po­lice were the worst cul­prits in the stand­off, as the vi­o­lence hap­pens right be­fore the po­lice yet the per­pe­tra­tors are never ar­rested.

“It has been 15 years since the Le­sotho and South African gov­ern­ment agreed on this cross-bor­der is­sue, but the co­op­er­a­tion has never been re­spected.

“We have been hav­ing con­stant clashes, par­tic­u­larly at the Maseru Bor­der Gate, and in June last year, we de­cided to protest against the ill-treat­ment of our taxi driv­ers by Free State taxi op­er­a­tors, by blockad­ing the bor­der. We parked our cars across the road and no ve­hi­cle could pass through for hours. We wanted to ex­press our dis­plea­sure at the way our is­sue was be­ing han­dled.

“how­ever, the Free State op­er­a­tors have con­tin­ued to as­sault our mem­bers and smash our taxis, and we are say­ing enough is enough.

“On Mon­day, we had a court or­der that al­lowed us to cross into South Africa, but as soon as six of our ve­hi­cles were across the bridge at around 11am, the driv­ers were stopped, as­saulted and told to re­turn to Le­sotho.

“The driv­ers were stranded; they didn’t know what to do so they wanted to be ad­dressed by our new gov­ern­ment on the is­sue, and what was be­ing done to end the feud.

“The fact that the taxis were parked across the bridge meant no other ve­hi­cle could cross over. The Deputy Min­is­ter of Trans­port and Public Works, Mokhele Mo­let­sane, came to ad­dress us and the Min­is­ter, Tšoeu Mok­eretla, also later came to see what was hap­pen­ing be­cause the block­ade was now af­fect­ing busi­ness in our coun­try.

The Min­is­ter of home Af­fairs, Lekhetho Rakuoane, also came and they all asked us to brief them on the is­sue since they are new in gov­ern­ment; they have only been in of­fice for less than two weeks.

They promised to re­solve the mat­ter soon, but when we re­ported the as­sault of our driv­ers at Lady­brand Po­lice Sta­tion, the of­fi­cers told us that they didn’t deal with taxi is­sues, es­pe­cially cross-bor­der dis­putes. We asked who had given that di­rec­tive but they couldn’t tell us, so we left with­out get­ting any help from the Lady­brand po­lice.

“The Free State op­er­a­tors sim­ply don’t want Le­sotho taxis fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers into South Africa be­cause they would lose busi­ness. They don’t have many pas­sen­gers from Lady­brand who travel to Gaut­eng like Ba­sotho do, which is why they are fight­ing us like this. The un­for­tu­nate thing is there are no such dis­putes be­tween South Africa and Botswana or Zim­babwe op­er­a­tors, so we won­der why they are do­ing this to us.

“On Tues­day, the sit­u­a­tion was still the same at Maseru bor­der be­cause the South Africans had now blocked the road with their own ve­hi­cles, so we ended up us­ing the Ficks­burg bor­der post be­cause we need to ser­vice the South African routes.

“To­day, we did not ferry any pas­sen­gers into South Africa and de­cided to meet with our lawyer in­stead, and chart the way for­ward.

“We don’t know what hap­pens next; a lot is at stake here; our liveli­hoods, as well as the lives of the very pas­sen­gers we ferry who are some­times also at­tacked by the South Africans sim­ply be­cause they would be in our ve­hi­cles.”

Mean­while, Deputy Min­is­ter Mo­let­sane said it was “dis­turb­ing” to wit­ness Mon­day’s bor­der-block­ade as it put Le­sotho in a very vul­ner­a­ble state since no busi­ness could be con­ducted at this very crit­i­cal en­try point.

“We went there to re­as­sure the trans­port op­er­a­tors that their is­sues would be ad­dressed by the new gov­ern­ment. At the end, the block­ade ended but it is im­por­tant that the new gov­ern­ment moves quickly to re­solve this is­sue.

This dis­pute should never be al­lowed to con­tinue be­cause it has very se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions on our econ­omy be­cause most im­ports and ex­ports into and out of South Africa pass through the Maseru Bor­der Gate,” Mr Mo­let­sane said.

Mean­while, there was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the South African au­thor­i­ties on the stand­off.

MRTO spokesper­son Le­bo­hang Moea

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