HUNDREDS of commuters were left stranded after commuter omnibus operators yesterday parked their kombis and blocked vehicles that wanted to assist commuters, in a protest against perceived heavy-handedness of the police.
Stranded commuters were forced to walk from as far as Nkulumane complex to the central business district (CBD) and other destinations.
Hundreds of commuters were seen walking in files to work along Siyephambili Drive, as early as 5am in the morning.
Schoolchildren were not spared, as they could be seen stranded at bus stops and road intersections. Commuter omnibus operators were protesting the police setting up too many roadblocks, with drivers being forced to pay bribes at each stop before being allowed to proceed.
One driver said, for example, the Siyephambili and Plumtree Road leading to the CBD now has four roadblocks, where commuter omnibus operators are paying a minimum of $5.
Traffic cops are stationed at Bellevue along Siyephambili Drive, Dunlop turn-off, Standard Bank turn-off along Plumtree Road and 15th Avenue.
When Southern Eye crew visited Bellevue, police officers manning the roadblock were just leaving for Nkulumane, where there were reported skirmishes.
A battalion of heavily armed police officers with dogs were patrolling most of the roads leading into the city, as tensions rose.
Officer commanding western region, Chief superintendant Mthokozisi Manzini was seen trying to convince kombi drivers to pick stranded passengers in the affected places.
Most high-density suburbs were affected by the unprecedented blitz, particularly commuters from Emganwini, Nketa, Nkulumane, Tshabalala, Mpopoma, Pumula, Pelandaba, Magwegwe and Lobengula West.
James Madikisireyi, a kombi driver, said police officers driving in patrol vehicles demanded anything between $20 and $40 from kombi drivers.
“Police in the patrol vehicle are demanding between $20 and $40 dollars before we even ferry any passengers in the morning,” he claimed.
Tapera Chidembo, a commuter omnibus operator, said the kombi business was no longer viable because of countless roadblocks where they paid bribes.
“Kombi drivers are forced to part with money at every police checkpoint, without any receipt,” he said. “I sometimes think of doing away with the kombi business, as the police interfere a lot.”
A commuter from Pumula South, Nkosentsha Nyathi, said he was left stranded at Nkulumane complex when kombi drivers heard that there were problems along the road and some schoolchildren had to return home.
“We were left stranded at Nkulumane complex after the kombi driver learnt that there were problems along Siyephambili Drive,” he said.
“I had to walk from the (Nkulumane) complex to Bellevue.”
Manzini, yesterday said police were looking for three men, whom he said had been at the centre of skirmishes.
“Phone me after 30 minutes, as police are yet to identify some boys who are involved in this issue,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from him later proved futile.