Anxiety‚ delays and simmering anger as nationwide bus strike bites

Stranded commuters queue at the counter at the Intercape Office in Durban to find out whether they will be able to catch their busses or if they can get a refund after some busses went on strike on Wednesday. Image by: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Thousands of anxious commuters hoping to visit loved ones over Easter are scrambling to make alternative travel plans as the bus drivers’ strike begins to bite.

Long distance travellers were affected in cities around the country. Passengers demanded answers‚ and refunds‚ from bus companies City to City‚ Translux and Greyhound at Cape Town Station.

Themba Jack‚ due to travel to Port Elizabeth on Wednesday afternoon‚ did not know if he would get home in time to prepare for an important church event. He was told to wait for two hours before he could collect a refund. He booked a City to City ticket on April 6. “I am in a hurry. I need an alternative and my money is with them‚” he said.

[pullquote]“I am in a hurry. I need an alternative and my money is with them‚” he said.[/pullquote]

Chiedza Gochera was shocked to find no buses for her trip to Harare‚ Zimbabwe‚ when she arrived at Park Station in Johannesburg. “I am super unhappy with what I see here. I am travelling with my daughter and I fear for her safety and mine …. This is such an inconvenience and nothing was communicated to us about the strike. I will have to buy another ticket and hopefully Greyhound will refund me‚” she said.

Among the many stranded commuters at Park Station was a family of four on their way from Harare to Mossel Bay on the Garden Route.

Alex Wilson’s plan to visit his brother in Cape Town was scuppered when he was greeted by an empty bus terminal in Durban on Wednesday. The 28-year-old Malawian national from the Bluff spent R670 on his ticket and was supposed to board an Intercape bus at 9:30am.

“I never knew about the bus strike. It was only when I came here at around 8:30am that I was told there were no buses. I tried to talk to them to give me a refund and they have promised me that they would refund me‚” he said‚ disheartened. “I’m very disappointed that I’m no longer going. I was going to spend two weeks there but now I will have to make another plan to get there‚” he said.

Caster Mathebula‚ 30‚ from Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga‚ was also left in the lurch in Durban. He had booked a ticket with Greyhound to travel to Johannesburg. “I have been visiting in Durban since Friday last week and I checked out of the hotel this morning but I found out when I came here that there were no buses. I was supposed to have left at 11am but I am still here. I’m not happy at all‚” he said.

Unions representing workers who are on strike‚ met with employers on Wednesday afternoon in a bid to reach an agreement that could put an end to the strike.

Organised by SATAWU‚ NUMSA‚ TASWU and TAWUSA‚ the strike comes after negotiations between bus companies and the unions reached a deadlock.

SATAWU spokesperson Zanele Sabela said‚ “We are hoping for a resolution to this impasse‚” but added that if no agreement was reached‚ the strike would continue.

Autopax spokesman Nozipho Jafta said: “We have not be able to operate any of our services today. So what we have done‚ those who want a refund‚ and where we have cash‚ we were able to refund them or told them to come back tomorrow.”

Some passengers were offered an alternative to use their tickets at a later stage.

Refunds were a sore point for many. Nokulunga Bokvel‚ who booked a City to City bus from Cape Town to Queenstown in the Eastern Cape‚ had to borrow R170 to make alternative travel arrangements. “I booked a return ticket but they said they can only refund me for one‚ for now and we will have to see later. I had to ask someone from work [for the extra R170]‚” said Bokvel.

South African Transport Workers’ Union spokesman Zanele Sabela said as things stood‚ Easter weekend travel was likely to be affected by the strike. The union‚ along with several others‚ is demanding a 12% wage increase.

“From the time we began mediation … they have not demonstrated any commitment to engage meaningfully with the demands‚” she said.

By Aphiwe Deklerk‚ Nomahlubi Jordaan‚ Bongani Mthethwa and Kgaugelo Masweneng

– Tiso Black Star Group/TimesLIVE