It took Mpumzi Banzana months of careful planning to save up a deposit to build his home. And just seconds for thugs to rob him of it, after he and other commuters were allegedly forced get off their long-distance bus that was headed to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape.
Banzana, 35, cuts a sad figure as he explains with slumped shoulders how a recent stand-off between taxi drivers and long-distance bus operators at the Dutywa Station resulted in him losing his hard-earned money.
After visiting family at the end of May, he placed the R54 450 deposit in his luggage and made sure he was dropped off right at the bus for safety reasons, he says.
He loaded his bags into the Eldo Coach and then sat down to prepare for the long journey home to Mandalay in Mitchells Plain.
Minibus taxi drivers apparently approached the bus and refused to let it leave, claiming the driver did not have a road permit.
'I surrendered because I didn't want to die'
Banzana says the driver then phoned a call centre for guidance."The bus driver said he wanted to save his own life and that the taxi drivers would attack the bus. So, he took my luggage out and kicked all the passengers out.
"Criminals who had been watching the scene unfolding approached him as soon as he got out of the bus.With wide eyes, he explained how three men closed in on him and robbed him of his bags, which contained the money from his stokvel and investments.
He was also robbed of his cellphone, bank card and ID.
"I surrendered because I didn't want to die."He went to the nearest police station and then had to phone a friend to help him out with money to get back to Cape Town. Banzana is now demanding answers from the bus company.
"It's their responsibility to sort this out," he says, gripping onto his bus ticket and police affidavit."I was attacked because they kicked us off the coach."
Attorney Dev Maharaj, acting on behalf of Eldo Coaches, said in response this week that there was an ongoing issue with members of the taxi industry who believed that the buses were not licensed to operate.
Security not financially viable"The drivers are threatened, passengers intimidated and forced to disembark from the buses," he said, adding that this was becoming increasingly prevalent.
Maharaj said that while the company had reported all incidents to the police, it was difficult to anticipate when and where they might happen.
"Furthermore, it is not financially viable for affected bus operators to have security on board each vehicle as invariably they will be outnumbered by members of the taxi industry," he added.
"In the case of Mr Banzana, he was clearly warned by the driver that the taxi operators were preventing passengers from boarding our client's vehicle in Idutywa and that he was free to negotiate with them to allow him to board the vehicle which he refused to do and was implored to disembark from the vehicle with his luggage for his own safety."
Maharaj said it was "indeed unfortunate" that he was inconvenienced and "apparently suffered a loss as a result of unlawful actions".
Refund the fare
However, Eldo Coaches cannot be held liable for his losses as the request to disembark was responsible and reasonable in the circumstances, he added.
"In any event, our client cannot be held accountable for the unlawful actions of those who robbed the passenger."They have offered to refund his fare of R325 or place him on another vehicle.
Banzana says he is in the process of consulting a lawyer and working with the police.
"There is no way I can keep quiet because I always believed I was safe. I was not at fault."
Eastern Cape transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose acknowledges there are some challenges with long-distance bus and taxi operations, adding that the department has "made some inroads in dealing with them".
These challenges include operators, particularly buses, not sticking to time schedules or using specified pick-up and drop-off points.
"We have successfully managed to get one bus operator to amend its operations in terms of drop-off and pick-up points. Talks are ongoing with other operators, including the taxi industry, and we are hopeful of a finding a lasting solution to this challenge," he says.
"As the province, we've also managed to engage our counterparts in Gauteng and the Western Cape as the majority of our long-distance operators are commuting between these two provinces. We are also in talks with the regulatory bodies that issue licenses to these long-distance operators to also get them onboard in terms of the law."