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Durban - Three paramedics and a critically injured patient, as well as his sister, were caught in a terrifying ordeal near Ladysmith on Tuesday when a mob protesting against a 60c taxi fare increase ambushed their ambulance.
Police said more than 300 protesters had blockaded a busy road in Steadville, 6km from Ladysmith.
“We were responding to a call in the heart of Steadville, for a 58-year-old man who had been beaten by a mob near his home. When we arrived, we saw he was in a critical condition and immediately began stabilising him,” said one of the paramedics with Sharaj Training and Ambulance Services.
He said the area seemed fairly calm when the paramedics arrived at about 3.30pm on Tuesday.
“But 15 to 20 minutes later, when we were ready to transport the patient to the hospital, that’s when all hell broke loose,” the 23-year-old man said.
“The road was barricaded with tree branches, tyres and large rocks.”
He said a mob of about 20 men “turned hostile” and threw rocks at the ambulance, but missed.
“I accelerated, drove over the rocks and managed to get away.”
But this was not the end of the troubles.
“A few metres away, we were ambushed by another mob of about 30, who’d blocked the road with huge stones.
“My patient was critical, so I had to take action,” the paramedic said.
He got out of the vehicle and told the protesters that without medical attention the patient would die.
“I pleaded with them to let us through, that we had nothing to do with the taxi fare increase. I said that we were doing a service and trying to help their community members.”
The victim had been attacked on his way home.
“He was on the brink of being placed on life support. If we had arrived 15 minutes later at the hospital, he might have died.”
He said that eventually the mob backed down, but told them if they wanted to go, they would have to move the boulders themselves.
“We called in our other emergency vehicle, a 4x4, to drive over the rocks to help remove them.”
He said paramedics had responded earlier in the day to a call from a woman who had sustained a back injury.
“We were assisted by the police earlier, but the second call was an emergency call-out, so there wasn’t enough time to get a police escort.”
The shaken young paramedic added: “I’ve never been in that situation before. We usually have good relationships with people in all the areas we serve.”
Meanwhile, the family of Duncan Thembinkosi Shongwe, the patient, lauded the work of the paramedics.
“They (protesters) hit my brother so badly. The paramedics came and helped him. They saved his life,” said Samkelisiwe Shongwe, 35, who was also in the ambulance when it was ambushed.
She said last night that doctors were treating him.
“There were so many stones. They kept bringing the stones and putting them on the road. We were very scared.
“The paramedics did a good job, with a smile. We really want to thank them.”
Another sister, Nosihle, who had been frantic with worry, was waiting at the Ladysmith Hospital for them.
“I was in town when I got the call. I’m just glad he is okay,” she said.
The sisters did not know why their brother had been targeted.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said residents of Steadville had blockaded Madiba Road with stones.
“It is alleged that they were protesting against the taxi fare increase. Police attended and monitored the situation.
“No arrests have been made,” Naicker said.
The chairman of the Klip River Taxi Association, Bhekuyise Masondo, said Steadville residents wanted to be represented by their own taxi association.
“They feel that because so many taxi users come from that area they deserve to have their own association. That’s unnecessary because we represent all the areas in uThukela.”
He said association members serviced 25 routes in the region.
“The taxi fare increase is 60c, from R5.90 to R6.50. We meet with several other associations in surrounding areas every June and decide on an increase,” Masondo said.
He said that all organisations had agreed to a 10 percent increase.
“We decide on the increase now and then we don’t change the tariffs even when there is a petrol price hike,” he said.