Taxi owners block Maseru border

Taxi owners block Maseru border

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

MASERU – ANGRY Basotho taxi operators blockaded the Maseru Bridge border gate for six hours to protest the beating up a driver and passengers by South African taxi operators.
The taxi operators parked their taxis on the bridge thus blocking the road from 10am to 4pm so that vehicles from Lesotho and those from South Africa could not cross the river.
But what triggered the protest appeared to have been the decision by the South African police to impound a Lesotho taxi and their failure to prevent crime after Ladybrand taxi operators assaulted a Mosotho taxi driver and some passengers.

“It is infuriating that these South African police officers at the Maseru border gate just watched when our driver and passengers were being beaten up by those hooligans across the river,” Makama Monese, the spokesman for the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO), said.

“The duty of police worldwide is to prevent crime and when it has been committed their duty is to investigate it so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted in the courts of law.”
“We cannot tolerate the behaviour of the South African police and some of the drivers and taxi operators across this river,” Monese said.  When thepost arrived at the border gate several taxis were dropping off passengers on the bridge because there was no way to pass.

The MRTO’s complaint was that the South African police, instead of protecting them so that they could cross without any threat from owners of Ladybrand taxis, blocked the road saying they did not have a right to ferry passengers to South Africa. Monese said the South African police did this despite that all taxis and buses from Lesotho had forms designed and prepared by the South African government that allowed them to take passengers from Lesotho to any destination in South Africa.

He also complained bitterly that last year the two governments met in Matatiele, which borders Qacha’s Nek, where they agreed that taxis from both countries could take passengers to any point across the border. “We don’t understand why the police in that country insist that we are holding documents that are not allowed in their country but the very same documents were designed and prepared by their government,” Monese said.

He said on Sunday they successfully carried passengers to South Africa without any hindrance but to their shock on Monday morning they were prevented from entering South Africa with passengers. “Some of our taxis were seized by the police but now only one of them remains with the police,” he said.

“We have hope that we will pass this because SADC has expressly told Lesotho and South Africa that if they could not provide security for passengers and drivers they will do it themselves,” he said. Monese said South Africa is violating the SADC Protocol on free movement of people and goods between member states. “They are violating the SADC Protocol,” he said. “SADC will solve this problem.”

Another MRTO top official, Lebohang Moea, said it was sad that they were losing business just because one country did not want to observe law.
“The SADC Protocol is binding on all member states,” he said.
The Ministry of Transport Principal Secretary, Majakathata Thakhisi Mokoena, said “what the South African authorities are doing against us is outrageous”.

“I don’t understand them. I don’t know what they want,” Thakhisi Mokoena said.
“The law is clear on this and our agreements are binding on both parties,” he said.
Thakhisi Mokoena said the government was planning to seek redress from the courts in South Africa to release the impounded Lesotho taxi “against the law”.
The taxi operators only removed their vehicles after Thakhisi Mokoena spoke to Free State province top officials at the border gate.

This is not the first time that Basotho taxi operators have resorted to blocking the border gate after their South African counterparts beat and smashed their taxis. During Easter Monday in 2015, at least two Basotho-owned taxis were damaged when Free State taxi operators went on the rampage stoning vehicles.

Free State taxi operators strongly objected to Lesotho taxis ferrying passengers to South Africa instead of offloading them at the border where they could be picked to various destinations in South Africa. This happened barely five days after the then Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla promised to deal with the cross-border taxi violence.

This is the fifth incident in which Lesotho’s taxis have been damaged and in all incidents nobody has been arrested or charged with malicious damage to property.
In two of the incidents two Basotho passengers were injured.

In 2013, taxi men from South Africa burnt two taxis from Lesotho and injured passengers at the Maseru border gate and at Fourisburg in 2012. In all the violent incidents both the Lesotho and South African governments did not seem prepared to tackle the problem while the Free State provincial government turned a blind eye to the problem.

South Africans argue that the SADC protocol that allows free movement of people and goods between member countries is unfair to them because “all countries that surround South Africa are given an opportunity to take passengers to anywhere in the country despite that South Africa itself has taxis to do the job”. They say Lesotho taxis should drop the passengers at the border and South African taxis will take them from there to their different destinations.

In 2014 Lesotho taxis were pelted with stones and passengers injured in Fourisburg, a South African town bordering Lesotho’s Butha-Buthe. In September 2013 taxi men from Lesotho blocked the border gate, saying they were trying to force South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and the then Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to solve their problems but in vain.

Both motorists and pedestrians were unable to cross to either country during the blockages.
Heavily armed police from both countries had to patrol the border to prevent the repeat of earlier incidents in which passengers were injured and taxis damaged when taxi men pelted them with stones.

It has been four years since transport ministers from both countries met to discuss the issue.
The then Lesotho’s Transport Minister, Lebesa Maloi, said negotiations between delegations from the governments of the two countries failed after taxi operators from Free State stormed out of the meeting complaining that their provincial department was not represented.

“We were startled when they stormed out of the meeting,” Maloi said, then.
Lesotho had invited South Africa’s national transport department from the capital, Pretoria.
The erstwhile chairman for RSA-Lesotho Cross-Border Route Corridor Committee, Molapo Mokoena, a South African citizen whose taxis also ferry passengers between Lesotho and South Africa, accused the Free State government of undermining the SACU and SADC protocols on free movement of peoples and goods. He said South African taxi operators, especially those in Ladybrand “always give us problems when we pass here”.

The Free State government took sides with South African taxi operators and revoked the SADC Protocol saying it was not binding on them.
Mokoena’s committee sued in the Free State High Court and obtained an order declaring “the decision made by or on behalf of the MEC for Police, Roads and Transport…unlawful, invalid and of no force and effect.”

The order also interdicted “the members of the Free State Traffic Officials from unlawfully preventing Taxi Operators or Drivers who holds (sic) a valid Cross Border Corridor [Permit] from crossing the border between RSA and Lesotho”.
The case was before Justice C Van Zyl on October 4, 2013.

Preventing Basotho from ferrying passengers to South Africa is in defiance of the court order.
Immediately after the transport ministers’ meeting of the two countries, Maloi issued a warning that Lesotho taxi operators should not ferry passengers to South Africa “because, as you see, it is still dangerous”. “Please exercise patience until this problem has been solved,” Maloi pleaded with them. The solution to the problem has not come even 44 months later.

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