South Africa News

Police ordered to protect long-distance buses in Eastern Cape

The high court has sent the transport minister, Eastern Cape transport MEC, and police back to the drawing board after their plan to protect long-distance bus operators besieged by taxi organizations in the province was found wanting.

Intercape has butted heads several times with the parties at the high court in Makhanda for failing to protect long-distance operators.

On Wednesday the court found a plan developed by the transport MEC and transport minister in 2022 “does not adequately ensure that reasonable and effective measures are put in place to provide the safety and security of long-distance bus drivers and passengers in the Eastern Cape”.

The court ordered they return to the drawing board.

“In developing the plan and in order to address the deficiencies in the 2022 action plan the [MEC and transport minister] are directed within 60 days of this order in consultation with the South African Police Service to develop a revised a comprehensive plan on the steps they intend taking to ensure that reasonable and effective measures are put in place to provide the safety and security of long-distance bus drivers and passengers in the Eastern Cape,” judge John Smith’s order reads.

Smith ordered the revised plan should “specify, in measurable terms, the date from which all intervention measures are to be implemented”. The plan should also specify, in relation to each intervention measure, the branch of the national transport department, Eastern Cape department of transport and police “responsible for the implementation of that measure, with the name and contact details of the head of the relevant branch included in each instance”.

Smith ordered the state departments to consider “the key interventions, including the implementation schedule” identified by Intercape in one of its affidavits. Should they decide to exclude some of the suggested interventions, the departments are required to state the reasons.

“If the reason for excluding any of the key interventions is as a result of resource constraints, in each such instance, to indicate all the resources [financial and human] that the available to the [MEC and transport minister] and SAPS,” the order reads.

The order also compels the departments to state “what resources have been made available for the revised action plan”.

Pending compliance, Smith ordered police to co-ordinate other role players to ensure a “visible law enforcement presence is maintained at every loading point in hotspot towns and areas at each of the times at which [Intercape’s] buses are scheduled to stop at those loading points in order to maintain the safety and security of long-distance bus drivers and passengers”.

Police have also been ordered to ensure “law enforcement escorts are provided to [Intercape’s] buses along the hotspot routes, and any other routes, as and when requested by [Intercape] on account of a legitimate concern over a risk of intimidation or violence …”

Intercape welcomed the ruling.

“Long-distance coach company Intercape won another round in its long legal battle to force the state to act to protect the company, its drivers, and passengers against the campaign of violent attacks and intimidation waged against it,” the company said in a statement.

“In recent weeks, there have again been concerted attacks against Intercape coaches in the province, with a number of incidents in which coaches were shot at in and around the so-called ‘hotspot’ towns of Cofimvaba, Butterworth, Engcobo, Tsomo, and Idutywa.”

The bus company approached the high court “for a second time in an effort to compel the respondents to comply with a September 2022 order by the same court which ordered the respondents to ‘develop a comprehensive [action] plan’”.

Intercape argued in court: “Nine months have since passed. Still the MEC and the minister have not developed an action plan that complies with the requirements of the court order. They were required to produce a ‘comprehensive plan’ with details as to the time periods for the pertinent steps. But they have failed. The plan that was prepared falls woefully short of the mark.”

The company said “the consequences, regrettably, are all too predictable”. It said having resumed operations in the no-go zones earlier this year, “Intercape once again finds itself the victim of acts of violence and intimidation” and “there is a real risk that the [original] court order will amount to nothing more than empty words on a page of the law reports”.

Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira was pleased with the latest court order.

“We understand very well that providing escorts to Intercape coaches is an extraordinary measure, but this is an abnormal situation we are dealing with and comes as a direct result of the police’s complete and absolute failure to act to stop these attacks,” Ferreira said.

He said there were more than 150 cases opened with police in the Eastern Cape and “not a single arrest to date, despite overwhelming evidence of criminality”.

“The only effective long-term solution to this problem is for the SAPS to arrest those responsible for perpetrating and orchestrating these acts. It is the absence of arrests and prosecutions that enables this blatant criminality and thuggery to continue,” said Ferreira.

The court set a return date of July 12 for the respondents to submit their arguments why the order should not be made final.

“The SA Police Service is constitutionally mandated and obliged to maintain law and order to ensure the safety and security of all persons and property,” Ferreira said.

“The constitution so holds and the high court in Makhanda has now twice given orders to this effect. All we are asking is for the minister and MEC of transport and the SAPS to do their jobs.”


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