Durban - There was massive traffic disruption in central Pinetown yesterday when taxi operators blockaded the town’s civic centre, effectively locking in the KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Ntuli before a planned inspection of the R40 billion Go!Durban project.
In a sudden swoop, taxis entered the civic centre parking area and blocked the bus waiting to take the minister, his staff, senior managers of eThekwini Transport Authority (ETA), councillors and media on the tour.
Taxis from the three major taxi associations in the area, Pinetown, Clermont & KwaDabeka and Molweni, surrounded the perimeter of the civic centre.
Ntuli spoke to taxi operators and soon after, Santaco regional chairperson Mathula Mkhize arrived with other taxi representatives.
As the two parties went into a closed meeting, heavily armed SAPS members from the Taxi Violence Unit arrived.
During the meeting, taxis lined up along the major routes in and out of Pinetown and, according to sources in the building, operators were ready to force a complete blockade of those roads, while traffic backlogs were already queueing around central Pinetown.
Some traffic reports indicated that taxis had blockaded Crompton Street.
When the meeting broke up, about two hours later, Ntuli told the waiting media “the taxi industry wanted to see me”, and that he had given the taxi leadership the opportunity to bring any issues to the table.
Highlighting that the multibillion rand rapid transport system is being rolled out nationally and which aims to transform Durban’s public transport system, Ntuli said: “There are challenges and we can deal with that.
“Negotiations are give-and-take and the taxi operators have provided us with 13 points on which they will elaborate at a meeting set for Tuesday.”
He said the taxi industry had not discussed the 13 points with him during yesterday’s meeting, which included a number of councillors.
However, Santaco’s Mkhize was blistering in his attack on the MEC and eThekwini Municipality, accusing the municipality of not delivering on promises.
Announced in 2013, the Go!Durban project is an integrated bus transport system which will link areas north, west and south of the city.
It will carry an estimated 600 000 commuters once it is completed, but since the launch, the project has been hampered by delays caused by on-going disputes between the city and the taxi associations, which want compensation for affected operators.
Mkhize confirmed that a further meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday, but said Go!Durban “must come to a halt”.
“If they don’t stop, the answer is what happened here today.
“There will be a hostile situation, the industry is on the road,” he said.
DA Ward 18 councillor, Melanie Brauteseth, who was also locked in, said the project had “been stalled by a failure of the eThekwini authorities to engage properly with all the relevant stakeholders. Today was a logical outcome of that neglect”.
She said she would escalate the issue to the national Transport Department, saying: “When the corridor is up and running it will stimulate trade in Pinetown as access to the CBD will be made easier. The project is, however, almost five years overdue”.
To date, eThekwini Municipality has spent more than R6bn on the project.
The inspection yesterday was cancelled because the MEC had other scheduled engagements.
The Independent on Saturday