Commuters torch 5 Putco buses

A fire fighter hoses down the front of a bus that was burnt down by angry commuters in Dobsonville, Soweto. Picture: Mujahid Safodien

A fire fighter hoses down the front of a bus that was burnt down by angry commuters in Dobsonville, Soweto. Picture: Mujahid Safodien

Published Jun 24, 2011

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Five Putco buses were gutted, a sixth partially damaged and a bus driver sent to hospital as angry commuters vented their frustration in Dobsonville.

And, while police set up a cordon, three men casually strolled past them and placed an incendiary device inside a bus that burst into flames.

The incident started at about 5.30pm on Thursday at the corner of Elias Motsoaledi Road and Van Onselen Street, opposite the Dobsonville Shopping Centre.

“People started stoning the Putco buses and set them alight. One driver was hit in the face and taken to hospital,” said police Captain Mpande Khoza.

He said the attack seemed to have been sparked by a price increase, with monthly tickets going up by as much as R70.

Putco bus drivers on Thursdaynight feared for their safety as they watched from their depot, 30m from the incident, as firefighters doused the flaming buses.

“Drivers will show up tomorrow, but I’m not sure that anybody is going out on the road,” said a Putco driver. When tempers started fraying, bus drivers say they called the police.

“At the end of the day it was two policemen, and they could do nothing but watch,” said another Putco driver, who witnessed the torching.

“It was a big crowd. They said they want more buses. Then they set the bus alight.”

A police source, who was one of the first at the scene, said only one of the buses in the cluster of three was set alight. A bus less than a metre away also caught fire. With police in attendance and trying to control the crowd, one neatly dressed man flanked by two others walked nonchalantly up to a third bus and stepped inside.

An hour later, the buses were reduced to molten metal and ash as the fire destroyed the hulks. A fourth bus with a blackened side could be seen further up Elias Motsoaledi Road, while even further away, two more stood destroyed.

The policeman said it had been impossible for the initial police units to stop the angry crowds as the officers carried only live ammunition.

One person, who was spotted throwing rocks at the buses, was arrested on Thursday night. A 40-year-old suspect was expected to appear on a charge of malicious damage to property in the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court today, police said. - The Star

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