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‘Cross into SA at your own peril’

Lesotho taxi operators warned

 

‘Mantoetse Maama

THe South African police have reportedly told Lesotho taxi drivers to ferry passengers across the border at their own risk.
According to a taxi-operator and member of the Butha-Buthe-based Likila Taxi Association, Pefole Tlhoriso, relations between local and South African (SA) taxi owners and drivers remain volatile despite reports to the contrary by the authorities.

Last week, the bitter fallout resulted in a two-day blockade of the Maseru Border Post by Lesotho taxi-owners and drivers, while there were also scuffles at the Caledonspoort Border Post in Butha-Buthe on Thursday between SA and local operators over the cross-border transportation of passengers.

According to Mr Tlhoriso, the Lesotho taxi-owners have reportedly been told by the South African police that their safety was not guaranteed if they continued transporting passengers across the border.
“The South African police told us today (yesterday) that our safety was not guaranteed if we continued crossing the border with passengers,” Mr Tlhoriso said yesterday.
“They came to our rank to give us the message. But we are still transporting passengers, hoping our differences would be resolved soon and we can freely continue taking passengers across.”

He further alleged South African taxi-operators have been terrorising their members since last Tuesday and Wednesday’s Maseru Border Post blockade.

The operators were protesting failure by Lesotho and South African authorities to protect them from their South African counterparts.
“On Thursday, for instance, in Fouriesburg, one of our taxis was stopped by the South African taxi-operators.
“They told the driver to give them the money he had been paid by the passengers he was carrying, and when he did, they said it was not enough.
“He told them he had used some of it to put fuel into the taxi, and one of them then drained the petrol out of the vehicle.
“They ordered him to drive back to Lesotho without petrol and we had to give the driver M100 so he could put some fuel into the car. It was terrible, and they ordered the passengers to get into their taxi, while they insulted them.
“This is what we have been fighting against — the abuse of our people when they are in those taxis.”
Mr Tlhoriso again claimed later on Thursday at around 6 pm, a Lesotho bus was damaged by SA taxi-drivers near the rank “in full view of the South African police”.
“This took place in full view of the police, who did not do anything to stop those operators or protect the driver.

Those people attack us in front of South African police most of the time but they don’t do anything.”
Another local taxi operator, who refused to be named, said they have been fighting about the same issue for about 14 years, with the authorities in both countries reportedly not doing anything about it.
“Our colleagues have been killed, while others have been paralysed during these fights,” the taxi operator said.
“Even our vehicles have been destroyed during these battles but the police have done nothing to protect Basotho.
“Those people just ignore the law because there are pending cases in the courts and court-orders that they just continue to ignore.
“There is a court order that was issued on 4 October 2013, allowing us to transport passengers into South Africa but they have simply ignored it.
“When we report these cases, they always find a way to evade arrest saying it would be individuals, not their organised associations committing the violence.”

Another operator, who also refused to be named, said South African taxi-operators “hate us” with a passion.
“I still remember that day as though it was yesterday. It was in 2007 when I received a call from a South African taxi-operator, saying there were some passengers who wanted to be ferried to Gauteng from the Maseru border.
“They asked me to come quickly, since it was very cold and around 6pm. When I was about to approach the border, I met two other Lesotho operators who had received the same call,” he said.
“One of the people working at the rank office asked us to park our taxis close together, and after we came out of the vehicles, the attacks started.
“We were beaten like small schoolchildren and we had to run for our lives. The shocking thing was this was happening in full of the police, who did nothing to stop the brutality. We tried to open a case against our attackers but nothing has been done since then.”

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Passengers Transport Cross Border Association (LPTCA) Public Relations Officer, Makalo Matekane, told the Sunday Express a meeting held last week failed to resolve the dispute. The meeting, which was held at the Maseru Bridge Border Post on Wednesday, comprised top government officials from Lesotho and South Africa, as well as the leaders of the taxi operators from both countries.
“As usual, the SA taxi operators disrupted the meeting because they realised that they were going to lose since what they are doing is against the law,” Mr Matekane said.
There was no immediate comment from the SA police.

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