National intervention to prevent attacks on long-distance bus operators: DoT briefing; with Minister


13 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms T Mahambehlala (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee was briefed in a virtual meeting by the Department of Transport (DoT) on the attacks on long-distance bus operators, and was told that extortion had become institutionalised in the public transport space, where the taxi industry was the main culprit. The Minister said this had become a violent situation, reaching far beyond just the Western the Eastern Cape. He emphasised that the DoT was working together with law enforcement bodies to fight these acts of violence, and everyone had a role to play. The security cluster and crime intelligence would identify and arrest the perpetrators who were responsible.

The Department gave examples of hostile incidents directed at the long-distance bus operators, such as pressure on bus companies to reduce the number of buses operating, or to cease operating from certain routes/towns; the flooding of ranks and routes with illegal operators; forcing bus companies to increase fares to bring them in line with taxi fares; threatening shopping centres and outlets if they sold bus tickets; and intimidation and attacks on bus drivers.

The DoT said its response had been to work closely with the South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, taxi associations, national and provincial government departments and municipalities, to deal with this situation. It was also working with crime intelligence to identify the people who were responsible for these violent crimes, but currently they did not have any faces to put to the crimes.

The Committee asked about the timeline for the implementation of the Department's interventions. A Member asserted that large companies monopolised the tourism sector in the Western Cape, and this was preventing marginalised communities from gaining access to operating licences. Generally, the Committee expressed support for the Department's plans.  

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Committee and the Minister of Transport to the meeting, as well as the delegations of the Department of Tourism and the Department of Transport. She said the challenges that bus companies were facing were affecting the tourism sector across the country. The tourism season was approaching, and they were expecting tourists to flock to South Africa. Therefore, they were expecting inter-provincial traveling to increase. She emphasised the importance of the tourism industry and the importance of working with the Department of Tourism (DoT) to come up with solutions to the challenges. The DoT had the Committee’s full engagement to ensure that the issues were dealt with.

Minister’s opening remarks

Mr Fikile Mbalula, Minister of Transport, said that tourism was an important sector of the South African economy. Everyone had an important role to play in the economy to ensure that tourism thrived in South Africa. The attacks on long-distance buses and the extortion and intimidation by the perpetrators should be seen as criminal acts. The individuals who thought it was okay to act violently to eliminate competition belonged in jail.

He highlighted that transport carried a valuable economic, social and security function. A lot of people relied on transport to access centres of economic activity, social infrastructures, amenities, or tourism. The Department and the Committee had a collective responsibility to work alongside law enforcement bodies to eradicate this problem in the country. It was a widespread problem that went far beyond just long-distance bus operators. The reported incidences included scholar transport, cross-border transport, commuter services, and commercial contracts between employers and private operators.

He said that extortion had become institutionalised in the public transport space, where the taxi industry was the main culprit. This had become a violent situation, and it reached far beyond just the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. He emphasised that the DoT was working together with law enforcement bodies to fight these acts of violence, and everyone had a role to play in combating these violent acts. The security cluster and crime intelligence would identify and arrest the perpetrators who were responsible.

He said the Department had a legal responsibility to evoke the legal frameworks that were at its disposal to ensure that the perpetrators did not go free without facing any consequences. However, the legal measures could be implemented only when the perpetrators had been identified. He pointed out various measures and interventions that the Department wanted to implement to reinforce law enforcement. Serious attention was being given to amending the conditions for all operating licences. All of these interventions would be described by the Deputy Director General.

DoT overview on attacks on long distance bus operators

Mr Mathabatha Mokonyama, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Public Transport, DOT, took the Committee through the presentation.

(See attached document for more details).

He said that attacks on buses were increasing, and seemed to be coordinated and ever changing. The targeting of long-distance buses and other services seemed to be perpetrated by the taxi industry. Extortion, intimidation and violence in the taxi industry was a widespread problem across all provinces.

The following incidents of intimidation on long-distance buses had been reported in the Western and Eastern Cape:

  • Pressure was applied on bus companies to reduce the number of buses operating;
  • Companies were told to cease operating from certain routes/towns (eg. in the Eastern Cape);
  • Flooding of ranks and routes with illegal operators;
  • Forcing bus companies to increase fares to bring them in line with taxi fares (price-fixing);
  • Threatening shopping centres and outlets if they sold bus tickets;
  • Intimidation and attacks on bus drivers.

He said that there had been limited success in terms of arrests and convictions of the perpetrators.

The initiatives which had been taken by the Department to deal with these challenges included:

  • The Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) co-chair the joint provincial transport priority committee to coordinate planning, regulation, and enforcement;
  • SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the City of Cape Town (CoCT) and the DTPW had prepared an ‘Extortion Standing Operational Procedure (SOP),’ with a focus on the transport sector ;
  • The Western Cape had written to the President to request a coordinated intervention to combat extortion and racketeering;
  • The President had assigned security cluster Ministers and the Minister of Transport to develop a response under the leadership of the Minister of Police;
  • Metro Police and the CoCT traffic department were enforcing operating licence conditions at all ranks and interchanges;
  • The SAPS Flying Squad and Provincial Traffic continued to monitor all national routes for rapid response in the event of attacks on buses;   
  • There had been a comprehensive review of technology with CoCT and SAPS, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) and licence plate recognition (LPR) cameras to monitor known hotspots;
  • Law enforcement entities had employed a coordinated approach derived from their integrated plans, involving SAPS and the provincial and municipal traffic entities;
  • Provincial traffic law enforcement entities and the SAPS highway patrol units conduct patrols on affected routes;
  • Roadblocks and roadside checkpoints were conducted with a specific focus on public transport (buses and minibuses);
  • Operational plans were reviewed jointly by SAPS and the provincial and local municipal traffic law enforcement entities to assess impact and efficiency;
  • The Eastern Cape had established a joint committee which includes the Department of Transport, the provincial SAPS and Intelligence, the Department of Cooperative Governance, and municipal representatives;
  • A priority committee on transport had been established, comprising a cluster of provincial departments which include the SAPS, transport, provincial intelligence services and metro police traffic leadership, to coordinate solutions for the ongoing disputes between buses and taxis. The priority committee had compiled a joint operational and deployment plan involving the SAPS, provincial traffic officers and applicable municipal traffic officers;
  • The joint operation focused on the R61 road between the areas of Mthatha, Engcobo, Cofimvaba and Queenstown, as well as on the N2, where there were reported issues between Butterworth, Idutywa, Ngqamakhwe and Tsomo.

Mr Mokonyama said that extortion and intimidation were acts of pure criminality in the hands of unidentified third parties purporting to be taxi operators, and that the perpetrators must be apprehended and unmasked so that they face the full might of the law.

He highlighted that the Minister had consistently and forcefully condemned these acts of criminality and violence within the taxi industry, and had continuously collaborated with provinces in engaging the taxi industry to resolve some of the challenges that resulted in violence, and that he was mindful of the limitations of the DoT to prevent such occurrences and to ensure the safety of operators and passengers. The statutory obligation of dealing with criminality and ensuring safety lay with the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies, and the Department was always in support. However, the Department was collaborating with relevant authorities such as the national joint operational and intelligence structures in developing a coordinated response to this challenge.

He said that Minister Mbalula had already convened a taxi lekgotla in October 2019, and had held several meetings with the Cape Organisation for a Democratic Taxi Association (CODETA) and the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA) in the Western Cape, and with the Uncedo Taxi Association in both the Western and Eastern Cape. He had sent the Department, led by the Acting Director-General, to the Western Cape Legislature on 4 August 2022, at which Intercape was represented, and had recently been involved in resolving the Hammanskraal conflict, together with Gauteng Province.

He emphasised that the Minister had collaborated with relevant Members of Executive Councils (MECs) to implement some of the punitive measures in the past, and would continue to do so in the future, but this remained the domain of the MECs. It had been proposed that a multi-disciplinary team should be established, including the SAPS, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the NPA and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who should investigate perpetrators of the violence, and that an integrated stabilisation plan should also be developed by the NATJOINTS Transport Priority Committee to respond to these challenges. Law enforcement agencies should establish a joint task team to deal with violations of the law and intelligence should be shared, and agencies should foster a collaborative spirit rather than acting in a compartmentalised way.

He said that all these proposals would be tabled at the meeting of the security cluster Ministers for consideration.


Ms H Winkler (DA) said that what they had heard from their engagement with the bus lines had been shocking and concerning. The impact that it could have on local and international tourism was alarming, and the violent nature of the incidents was worrisome and threatening. A bus company had mentioned that the Western Cape had successfully pursued enforcement and had made arrests on those who were implicated in violence. However, there were several issues with arrests and enforcement in the Eastern Cape. She remembered that the Minister had said that there were ongoing engagements with MECs, and that if they could perform their mandate, under certain circumstances the Minister would then be able to intervene. She asked the Department what the consequence management was for the MECs who refused to engage.

Said that the Minister and the Department had been doing a lot of work to ensure safe bus travel. However, she asked for a timeframe for the enforcement of the plans that had been set out by the Department and the Minister.

(There were sound issues throughout the whole meeting from here on.)

Mr K Sithole (IFP) said the President had assigned security cluster Ministers and the Minister of Transport to develop a response under the leadership of the Minister of Police, and asked what the timeframe was for the development of that response.

Did the Department have any plans to enforce teamwork between the provinces, the municipalities, and departments? He highlighted the need for teamwork between the different departments to combat the challenges.

He said it seemed as though the DoT had planned a lot of interventions, but they had seen none of the plans being put into action. He asked the Department how long it was going to take for the plans to be implemented.

Ms M Gomba (ANC) referred to the provision of tour operating licences in the tourism sector, and said that some provinces were good at providing tour operating licences. She asserted that the main issue was in the Western Cape, where the tourism industry had been monopolised, and operating licences were issued only to the big operators. She asked how the Minister and the DoT were going to address this issue and help the people who were being marginalised, to ensure that there was an equitable licence issuing process and enable all South Africans who qualified an opportunity to operate in the Western Cape. Presently, only the big companies were being given access to the main tour operating routes.

The Chairperson said that it was evident that a lot of progress had been made in this Department.

DoT's response

Mr Ngwako Makaepea, Director General (DG), DOT, said that the Department was one of the highest rated departments in terms of the work that they had done. They had worked together with the Minister and the provinces to ensure that all the matters were being dealt with. They had also learned a great deal from the strategies of the Western Cape. He said it was critical to include the law enforcement agencies. However, as had been mentioned before, the real challenges were intimidation and extortion, and these were criminal offences, so the key responsibility lay with the SAPS. However, the Department would take up the issues of the tour operating licences and the legislation.

He said that the stabilisation plan was not led by the DoT, but by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS), and they were dealing with that part of the process. The Department would engage with them and find out what their timeframe was on all of those matters.

They had taken note of the comments on the tour operating licences, and he agreed that it was the responsibility of the National Transport Regulator within the Department to ensure that the people who were being marginalised were allowed equal opportunities.

Mr Mokonyama said one could not assume that the MECs were not cooperating. They were guided by the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) in the transport sector, and were thereby provided with the regulations for operating permits and licences.

Matters of criminality were indeed the responsibility of the SAPS. The DoT would engage with SAPS to gain clarity on what it was that they were planning on doing, and what they had been doing -- whether they had been using crime intelligence, and also if people had been arrested. They had not reached a stage where the MECs had been instructed to cooperate, and that they could invoke Section 91 to get the Minister to deal with that kind of responsibility.

The Department was working with crime intelligence to identify the people who were responsible for these violent crimes, but currently they did not have any faces to put to the crimes.

He said that no province had the ability or was allowed to issue tour operating licences. They were busy working with similar structures in the tourism industry to deal with the backlog. He highlighted that in July they had a backlog of 1 040 licences that were waiting to be issued, and that they were now sitting with fewer than 200.

Referring to the marginalised people, he said they would apply for a licence without having a vehicle. The Department would then issue a licence on condition that they went and got a vehicle. Several licences had not been uplifted because of various economic reasons.

Further discussion

Mr Sithole said that the Department had not responded to his question on the development of a response that had been sanctioned by the President to the security cluster. He wanted to know where they were in the process.

On the issue of intimidation and extortion, he said there was an intelligence centre, so was the Department not supposed to inform them of the incidents that were happening in the industry? Was the Department still in the planning phase, as people were dying?

Ms Gomba said she had asked about the intervention by the Department in the distribution of the operating licences in the tourism sector by the Western Cape Provincial Government, which had not been answered.

DoT's response

Mr Makaepea said that some of their interventions were not necessarily planned, and that they had engaged and met with all the relevant stakeholders in that particular regard. Some of the other plans had been led by NATJOINTS, which was a security cluster.

Regarding the distribution of the licences, that function was now in the hands of the Minister of the DoT.

Mr Mokonyama said there were no provinces that issued licences for tour operators. That responsibility had been moved up to the national level, which was where they were issued. They would have to investigate whether there were still provinces that were issuing tour operating licences.

He said that the stabilisation plan was part of the response to the President’s mandate to the security cluster.

He said that the DoT worked very well with the State Security Agency (SSA) and that they did receive information from them, which enabled them to deal with the tensions within the industry.

Committee Minutes

The Committee considered and adopted the minutes of the meeting of 6 September.

The meeting was adjourned.

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