Intercape Pleads For Help Amid Fresh Attacks On Buses, Seeks Court Action

Cape Town – Long-distance coach company Intercape has called on newly appointed Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga and police to urgently intervene after the operator came under renewed attack.

Intercape, which accuses taxi operators of being behind the attacks, said the latest incident occurred shortly before midnight on Wednesday, (8 March 2023).

“An Intercape coach en route from Gqeberha to Pretoria was shot at in the Penhoek Pass on the N6 in the direction of Bloemfontein,” said the bus company.

“A passenger was shot and wounded and rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment.”

In another incident later the same day, Intercape staff and security were threatened repeatedly by taxi operators in Idutywa in the Eastern Cape.

“The N2 highway near Idutywa was blocked off for several hours by local taxi associations in protest at Intercape operating from this and surrounding towns,” said Intercape.

Intercape said the police and transport authorities were “missing in action” which the bus company said has emboldened taxi associations and operators who are again brazenly targeting its operations and passengers.

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The company accuses police of being visible at key loading points in the Eastern Cape “only 20% of the time” despite repeated requests for assistance and in defiance of the court order.

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Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira has further asked for support from the business and political sectors and civil society in South Africa.

Ferreira said: “I am openly pleading with all South Africans to stand up and call on Government to put a stop to this anarchy. How can we allow criminals to shoot up a coach carrying innocent people?

“This lawlessness is not only about Intercape. It affects multiple sectors as well as members of the public caught in the crossfire.

“At this rate, our country will be overrun by thuggery. The time has come to say, enough is enough. 

“We should never be in a position where this type of violent criminality becomes normalised, and the State does precisely nothing. 

“The justice system correctly compels them to act and they just ignore court orders. Are we an irretrievable gangster state? 

“Should we all just give up?”

The company on Thursday once again approached the High Court in Makhanda with an urgent application to compel police and national and provincial transport authorities to comply with earlier court orders to provide for the safety and security of Intercape’s drivers and passengers.

The 44-page affidavit states: “Five months have since passed. Still, the MEC and the Minister [of Transport] have not developed an action plan which complies with the requirements of the court order. That which they did prepare fell woefully short of the mark.

“Worse, the minimal intervention for which the action plan does provide has not been properly implemented.”

Intercape adds: “The consequences, regrettably, are all too predictable. Having recently resumed operations in the so-called ‘no-go zones’, Intercape once again finds itself the victim of acts of intimidation and violence.”

The company said it had deployed its private security officers in hotspot towns in the Eastern Cape but that “the moment Intercape withdrew its private security officers [because it cannot afford, and should not be required, to pay private security officers to do that which the SA Police Service (SAPS) is obligated to do], the intimidation recommenced”.

Intercape is asking the Makhanda High Court for relief to address the inadequacy of the existing action plan as presented by SAPS and the Minister of Transport and MEC for Transport in the Eastern Cape. 

At the same time, the company is asking that, in the interim, all relevant state functionaries be ordered to “at least do that which the plan and implementation schedule require”.

No-go towns

Ferreira said when Intercape resumed operations in the five no-go towns of Cofimvaba, Butterworth, Engcobo, Tshomo, and Idutywa in January, the company was welcomed back with open arms by the commuting public. 

“On social media, people were celebrating our return to service as an affordable and safe means of travel,” Ferreira said. 

“But the minibus taxi associations do not want this and so turn to violence and intimidation to stop us operating. And despite a clear and direct order from a High Court Judge, the State is simply missing in action.”

Upon recommencing operations in the no-go zones, Intercape says it received little to no support from the SAPS, resulting in several incidents, including:

  • On 14 January, hours before Intercape recommenced operations in the no-go zones, one of its buses was stoned near Cradock
  • On 15 January, in Butterworth, Intercape was prevented from loading passengers at its designated stop
  • On 16 January, in Idutywa, one of the epicentres of the violence, one of Intercape’s buses was chased away by taxi operators when it attempted to stop at its designated loading point
  • On 26 January, also in Idutywa, Intercape’s private security members were intimidated and threatened by a minibus taxi full of men who on three occasions drove past the security personnel and threatened to shoot them

These and other incidents (including incidents throughout February 2023) occurred despite Intercape liaising with local police to inform them of impending arrivals and departures of coaches and specifically requesting police visibility. 

In one case in Idutywa on 16 February 2023 where a coach was chased away from its designated stop, the driver tried to reach both the Idutywa police station and the officer in charge of the operation by phone, but none of his calls were answered. 

The intimidation of the security personnel on 26 January was reported at the Idutywa police station and the registration number of the taxi was supplied along with an affidavit in support of the case. 

Over the past year, Intercape has consistently supplied the SAPS with relevant evidence and information that would enable the SAPS to identify those responsible for these attacks.

Over 150 cases have been opened with the SAPS in the Eastern Cape alone, yet there has not been a single arrest despite overwhelming evidence of criminality.

Cost of security

Intercape has spent over R1 million on private security to supplement police after the company restarted operations in five “no-go” towns in January.

Intercape, however, was forced to withdraw the private security in mid-February due to the spiralling costs, leaving local police as the only on-the-ground form of protection and deterrent against intimidation by local taxi associations.

The affidavit says: “The deployment of private security at loading points in Idutywa, Butterworth, Cofimvaba, Tsomo, and Engcobo has cost Intercape in the vicinity of R45,000.00 per day.

“As a result, Intercape incurred costs in the order of R1,035,000.00 for the first deployment of private security during the 20-day period of 12 January 2023 to 3 February 2023.”

“Intercape’s deployment of private security has come at an enormous and unsustainable cost,” the company argues in its court papers.

“In almost every sphere, South Africans are having to spend significantly to make up for the abject failure of the State to deliver even basic services. 

“From the billions being spent on diesel to make up for load-shedding, to private security for businesses and homes because the SAPS simply doesn’t do its job, to private healthcare, private education – where does this all end, and what precisely are we paying high levels of tax for?”

Where is the outcry?

Ferreira said: “We have come to expect nothing from a president and ministers who mouth platitudes but who do very little to address the real concerns of citizens everywhere. There’s always lots of talks to try and calm things down, but zero action.”

“That said, we welcome the appointment of Minister Chikunga to the Transport portfolio and trust that she will regard this crisis as a matter which requires urgent attention and intervention.”

“Intercape is a small privately-owned company going it alone again against a criminal network which is threatening not just the long-distance coach industry but also other sectors of our economy.”

“We are doing everything we can within our power and with limited resources, but where is the support or encouragement from the business community in South Africa? 

“Where is the political pressure, civil society groupings, and the public to say to the government that this cannot be allowed to continue? Because this type of criminality won’t stop in our industry. If not addressed, it will become endemic, if it isn’t already.”