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Michael Biyela was a respectable family man and was securely employed as a bus driver by the eThekwini municipality. He planned to send his children to university and had also started to build a six-roomed house for his family.
But all his hopes crumbled when the municipality outsourced the bus ownership to Remant Alton Land Transport in 2003.
Now Biyela, who was employed by the municipality in the early 1990s, is among 300 former city bus drivers who are preparing a R3 billion lawsuit against the municipality for their loss of income and the breakdown of their families.
Each person is demanding compensation of R10 million. They are blaming the municipality for the privatisation, which cost them their jobs.
A city lawyer, Don Kali, is assisting them in their fight for compensation. Kali said the matter would be taken to the Durban High Court as soon as he finished making arrangements with an advocate.
Biyela said when he was employed by the municipality, he had a good monthly salary, medical aid and a housing subsidy. All these benefits disappeared when the private company took over the buses. He said their salaries were also slashed.
“My two wives died of illness because I could no longer afford their medical expenses.
“My son committed suicide after he had found out that I could no longer afford to pay for his higher education. I lost control of my family,” said the devastated man.
The cancellation of his housing subsidy terminated the construction of his six-roomed house. Now the building is filled with weeds and his family is living in a shack.
Biyela is listed as the first plaintiff in a letter of demand the claimants have sent to the municipality. He said he was earning R5 600 when he was employed by the municipality, but that his new employer reduced that to R4 000.
Yesterday the drivers met in Durban to plan a way forward after the municipality failed to respond to their correspondence.
Another employee, Mzikayifani Mabika, said after joining the new employer he was forced to sell his house in Newlands because he could not afford the bond.
“I moved to a shack and divorced my wife. My life was completely destroyed,” said Mabika.
The municipality sold the buses to Remant Alton Land Transport for R70m. The company experienced financial difficulties, which made it impossible to operate the public transport system.
In 2008, the municipality spent R405m buying the fleet back, and the following year another company, Tansnat Africa, was appointed to run the buses. This move was declared illegal when it was found that Tansnat had been given the contract without the matter going to public tender.
Three months ago, City Manager S’bu Sithole told The Mercury the municipality was still looking for viable ways of operating the buses. Then the city’s executive committee also said it was looking at the possibility of taking over the buses and re-employing its staff.
Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng confirmed that the municipality had received the letter of demand in respect of the lawsuit.
“The issue of what is going to happen with the management of the buses will be announced after the process of finding the correct option has been completed,” said Mofokeng.