Limpho Sello/Bataung Moeketsi
A TUESDAY morning strike by taxi drivers turned violent as the public transport operators fought running battles with police officers who accused them of blocking traffic in Maseru.
The strike, which left hundreds of Maseru commuters stranded, was called by the taxi operators to force the government to act against illegal taxi operators who are allegedly threatening the viability of registered transport operators.
The transport operators said they were unhappy with the government’s failure to clamp down on pirate taxis despite their appeals for action dating to as far back as 2012.
The strike was initially peaceful but matters came to a head when some police officers clashed with some taxi operators who they accused of blocking the smooth flow of traffic at the Ha-Matala.
Mr Jonase said his vehicle was involved in an accident with another car and police details who attended the scene then accused him of blocking the road with his vehicle. He said he tried to reason with the police officers but they started assaulting him, prompting fellow taxi operators to join in the confrontation.
“The police beat me up for allegedly blocking the road with my vehicle,” said Mr Jonase.
“I tried to explain to them that there was an accident but they wouldn’t listen and they continued beating me. My colleagues were angered by this and started burning tyres. We had no intention of causing any havoc but we were provoked by the police as they were so confrontational. We tried to be civil with them but they were not taking any explanations from us. They did not want us to listen to us and they end up beating some of our drivers.”
The angry taxi operators burned tyres and barricaded the Ha Matala traffic circle with stones to prevent vehicles from entering the central business district. The roads leading to and from Ha-Nelese, Ha-Matala and Lekhaloaneng were all barricaded and as the confrontation escalated, some taxi drivers were beaten up by the police before being arrested and detained at the Lithoteng Police Station.
Several companies, factories and other organisations responded to the Tuesday protest by cutting short their working hours to allow their employees to get home early.
Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) Association Chairperson Mokete Jonase blamed the police for the degeneration of what had started as a peaceful protest.
The taxi operators, who had threatened an indefinite strike, eventually called off the protest after meeting Transport Minister Keketso Sello on Tuesday evening.
Yesterday, MRTO spokesperson Lebohang Moea said they agreed to suspend their protest after the government agreed to urgently address their grievances.
“We met an inter-ministerial team headed by the Transport Minister (Mr Sello) and they said they were already working to urgently address our concerns. They said they would start by eliminating all the illegal bus stops in Maseru.
“They said they will soon be a joint army-police operation to flush out pirate taxis. This gives us hope that all unlicensed vehicles will eventually be removed from the roads,” Mr Moea said.
On his part, Mr Sello said they would continue discussions with the taxi operators whose grievances were genuine.
He said he would work with an inter-ministerial team as well as heads of the security agencies to bring normalcy to the public transport sector.