File photo

Durban - An uneasy calm has returned to Ladysmith after a taxi fare hike caused chaos in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town for several days.

Commuters blockaded roads with boulders and burning tyres after taxi operators announced a R1 fare increase, effective from last Friday.

On Saturday, all the roads leading into the town were blockaded. Helpmekaar, Centenary and Pieters roads, the R103 and N11 were affected.

The riots continued until Tuesday with commuters vowing to disrupt road transport until the taxi fare was decreased. Only local taxis were affected by the increase.

The riots, which saw a 4-year-old shot in the head with a rubber bullet by the police, forced the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), the Department of Community Safety and Liaison and other stakeholders in the taxi industry to meet Tuesday.

Mayor Vincent Madlala said the riot had done much damage to the image of the town.

“We have incurred a huge loss during these four days of riots. Although we cannot put a monetary figure to the losses, some businesses in town had to close.

“I understand that people had difficulty reaching work in the factories, but we are still to collate all the relevant information to know the exact figure of the loss,” Madlala said.

He said during the meeting on Tuesday, all parties agreed that proper channels were not followed when the increase was decided and implemented.

“We then said, ‘let’s put this (increase) on hold and relook at how it was brought to the commuters in the first place’.

“We will also seek services from experts to tell us how the industry (taxi) got to the R1, and if the amount is indeed reasonable,” Madlala said.

The Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and Industry criticised the manner in which the commuters behaved.

Chamber manager, Jennifer Wallace, said: “While the right to protest is recognised, the blockading of routes in and out of the town and adjacent industrial zones must not be construed as an inherent right when protesting, nor may such protests disturb the economic activities of the entire town.”

Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC, Willies Mchunu, encouraged the taxi associations to undertake the necessary public consultation, working with the municipality, Santaco and officials from his department before implementing any fare increases.

Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said the child who was injured was with his siblings watching a grader clear the rocks from Helpmekaar Road when he was hit.

Naicker said police used rubber bullets to disperse a group of people who had tried to stop the grader.

An attempted murder case is under investigation.

Santaco chairman in the uThukela Region, Thembokuhle Ndwandwe, said: “The industry has lost a lot of money, but now the important thing is to work on the identified problem of lack of communication.”

Daily News