Durban’s public transport woes continued on Wednesday with the municipal bus service coming to a standstill on the first day of schools opening.
A statement issued by eThekwini Metro Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said that a meeting was being held on Wednesday morning with employees, union leaders as well as the management of Transnat, the company that operates the bus service, in a bid to avert a strike.
Bus services were expected to be disrupted until later on Wednesday afternoon.
“The Municipality apologises to commuters for the inconvenience caused. The bus service will be disrupted during the morning peak period. However, the bus service is expected to resume operations as from this afternoon.”
Employees of the municipal service have been up in arms over the late payment of their December salaries and their bonuses, and have raised questions over the lack of payments into their provident fund.
Sisilana said that media were barred from attending the meeting and reporting on it. She said the municipality would issue a statement to the media once the meeting had been held.
According to the statement issued on Wednesday morning about 750 employees had been paid directly by the municipality.
It was not immediately clear how many people are employed in the service.
The bus service was sold by the municipality in 2003 to Remant Alton Land Transport for R70-million. In 2008 the municipality spent R405-million buying back the buses from troubled Remant Alton. The company continued to operate the service owned by the municipality for another year.
In 2009 Tansnat Durban Cc was appointed to run the service, but that too has been less than satisfactory, with the municipality having to inject extra funding into the service.
Transnat, which is owned by taxi boss Mandla Gcaba – a nephew of President Jacob Zuma – has struggled to keep the service operating and has also been sued by the municipality.
In December, the company’s spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize told the Mercury newspaper that the company’s difficulties in paying workers had arisen principally from three issues. These were the municipality’s failure to allow an increase in fares, a failure to pay Transnat what was owed in terms of the operating agreement and the municipality’s failure to pay Transnat for preloaded trips on “Muvo” cards that it was distributing.
There was a heavy police presence outside the Alice Street depot in the city centre and tyres and rubbish were being burnt outside the depot in Umlazi on the Mangosuthu Highway.
An employee, who spoke to ANA on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday morning: “Drivers are not going to the meeting. They feel the [eThekwini Metro] council is colluding with Transnat. They want the mayor to come to them at their depot in Umlazi and Ntuzuma.”
ANA can confirm that the eThekwini Metro municipal manager was speaking to the workers who were attending the meeting. Gcaba was also in attendance at the meeting.
On Friday evening scores of buses were abandoned along the Mangosuthu Highway in protest against the non-payment of salaries.
Many complained about a culture of intimidation at Transnat Durban Cc.
“People are scared to speak out. There is a culture of threatening people. It’s run like the taxi industry,” said one worker on Friday.
Provincial education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said on Wednesday that he could not immediately comment on what effect the bus strike had on pupils returning to school.