George 19 august 2015 protest in George

George - George authorities are expected to question an EFF member in connection with the recent violent Go George bus service protests, which caused an estimated R15 million in damages and resulted in the suspension of the service.

An EFF member in the Southern Cape has claimed law enforcers were “looking for one of their own (EFF member)”, after four Go George buses were set alight and several drivers attacked during protest action over transport routes.

Southern Cape police did not confirm or deny that they were trying to track down a member of the political party.

Police captain Malcolm Pojie said the investigation was ongoing and at a sensitive stage.

Nine people, mostly taxi drivers, appeared in the George Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of public violence and were remanded until their next court appearance.

While Pojie remained tight-lipped about the investigation, he confirmed that all evidence, links and witness statements would be thoroughly scrutinised.

“If found that there are still outstanding arrests, we will act swiftly and effect those arrests. For now the investigation is ongoing and a joint group of detectives are probing the incident. We have centralised all the cases emanating from the bus violence,” he added.

However, the EFF has taken flack for the protest action, having earlier taken up the cause of disgruntled Southern Cape taxi operators who vowed violent disruptions unless a moratorium was placed on the Go George project until all outstanding issues had been settled.

Denouncing the violence, EFF leader in the Western Cape, Bernard Joseph, confirmed that they’ve heard from members in the Southern Cape that the authorities were trying to pin the protest action on them.

“The EFF is neither involved nor responsible for this violence,” he stressed.

Instead, Joseph blamed the chaos on the George municipality who continuously refused to engage with taxi drivers “whose livelihood have been taken away since the buses started operating”.

“As much as the EFF does not condone violence, it is of the view that what is happening in George could be justified, since the municipal authorities have chosen to ignore all the pleas and signs,” Joseph said.

He added that the violent attacks were an orchestrated attempt by officials from the local government in George, to force desperate taxi operators to react.

“Many taxi drivers were promised that they would be better off with the new transport system. However, many are finding themselves in dire straits, with no jobs or income, while the measly pay-outs have already dried up,” he added.

Joseph claimed Western Cape Transport and Public Works MEC Donald Grant already “tried to intimidate him”.

“MEC Grant tried to threaten me during the last sitting of the provincial legislature, saying I should stay away from the Go George and that he wants to warn me as a colleague,” he said.

Grant’s office did not respond to media inquiries but, in a statement praising law enforcement efforts, Grant indicated that more arrests were expected.

“We will continue with the planned roll-out in the next few phases to Thembalethu and surrounds. The George community can be assured that we will not be deterred by criminal acts and dissent from seeing this nine year partnership project between all three tiers of government, and the local minibus taxi and bus industry, reach fruition,” he added.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in her “Inside Government” newsletter, also tackled the Southern Cape violence, which the DA had thought would be a smooth transition after 99 percent of the local taxi and bus industry participated in negotiations to find a workable model.

“A total of 240 operators chose to opt-in, be bought out, or go for a combination of these two options. More than half of them, 61 percent, chose one of the ‘opt in’ opportunities. And the province has already paid R61 million to taxi operators who wanted to ‘opt out’.”

She said at the forefront of resistance was a small taxi association called Uncedo whose operators complained that their “buy-out” payments had been inadequate, and that they had forfeited their livelihoods.

She expressed concern that protesters went beyond just targeting buses, with an attempted arson attack on the home of a George Link employee in Thembalethu, while employees of the operating company had to be removed from the township for their own safety and accommodated elsewhere.

She added that several reports of damage to other homes, as well as the destruction of the security CCTV cameras had been reported. “SAPS and other law enforcement agencies implemented high-visibility patrols, and road-blocks and escorted buses throughout the weekend,” Zille said.

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Cape Argus