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When the state is held at ransom

image MASCOT: Some of the Kombi drivers and conductors operating between Mbabane, Mvutshini, Lobamba and Mahlanya who downed tools in protest against one of the traffic police officers and some inspectors for unfair treatment.

ONCE again public transport operators, mainly kombi operators servicing the Mbabane and Manzini corridor have done what they know best, holding the state at ransom until their will is done, that of getting rid of no-nonsense speed cop Mshayina and Inspector Jazi who are a festering boil in their behind.

ONCE again public transport operators, mainly kombi operators servicing the Mbabane and Manzini corridor have done what they know best, holding the state at ransom until their will is done, that of getting rid of no-nonsense speed cop Mshayina and Inspector Jazi who are a festering boil in their behind.

In the midst of all the drama and commotion the only recipient of the madness is Joe Public.  Mshayina and Jazi were enjoying the safety provided by the employer and were both far and away from the madding crowd and rightly so because they could not risk their lives to unruly public transport operators who were baying for their blood.

Operators

Each time kombi operators have something at issue, they take the law into their hands by unilaterally suspending operations willynilly and this behaviour speaks volumes about a poorly managed regulatory authority. It is proof enough that there is more than meets the eye in the purpose and function of the Road Transportation Board or authority, that it is failing in its mandate. Period.

We have not forgotten the running battles between security personnel comprising the riot police and warders a few years ago at the Manzini bus rank when kombi drivers and conductors closed the public facility after the local municipality imposed changes on them. 

Security forces beat the daylights out of the conductors and drivers and they returned to work the following day but this ugly scenario tainted the image of Swaziland in the global community as a police state.  

 Instead of providing security to citizens, the cops and warders were unleashed on the drivers and conductors because the latter were boasting that they were ready to take on the former on an open stake. It was now a cat and mouse chase while the public suffered untold inconveniences of being deprived public transportation.

This time around the police were there to maintain the peace but surprisingly did not punish those who refused to honour the social contract of providing transport to the public as per their permits. We would have expected the police to confiscate the public permits of all the vehicles that did not report for duty on the days that the standoff lasted.

While it may seem civilized and noble to engage the grieved operators in endless dialogues that often fail to come out with any lasting results, joe public is often left out in the cold licking the wounds of being deprived the right to public transport by those who have been granted the permits and rights to offer such services.

In all this the consumer associations can only offer lip service by howling in the media instead of tackling the issues with the RTB to which they are members with a view to coming out with rapid interventions in the event such inconveniences revisit. 

The issue of public transport operators reminds one of the kaMdodi gangs, marauding armed bandits that took control of the industrial hamlet of Matsapha for decades on end. 

While the bandits reigned, the security top brass at His Majesty’s Correctional Services maximum security sanctuary, the St. 

George’s Army Barracks and the Royal Swaziland Police College saluted and cheered them on, these being the immediate neighbours of the bandits. In the same vein the kombi operators are able to stage their reign of terror unperturbed in Manzini, Matsapha, Mahlanya, Mvutjini and Mbabane for days on end whilst the public they are supposed to serve suffers with no redress. 

This, however, does not suggest that the security forces should tune in the Peter Tosh &Buju Banton ballard ‘They Must Get A Beating’. The public is not interested in the romance and jostling or cuddling and fondling between the security forces and bus conductors, the public is interested in public transport services and a safe environment.  

It would cost drum a lot of ink to enumerate the atrocities that the public is subjected to in the hands of public transport operators.

Crossroad

The other day I boarded a kombi at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital crossroads hoping to arrive at work in Mbabane in time instead of going all the way to take a kombi at the Manzini main bus terminal several kilometres away. 

But Lo and behold, the kombi began making stops at just about every turn and refused its passengers to alight and look for alternative transport. 

When I complained about this to the conductor he simply asked why I had no car of my own, what I had been working for all my life now that I had grown grey hair but still boarding public transport to annoy conductors. 

The public transport industry needs a complete overhaul, it must introduce new management systems and introduce standards. It is not enough for the owners to hide behind the conductors and drivers when they have issues with the state. 

Conductors

It would seem the owners instruct the conductors and drivers to fight on their behalf otherwise they would have fired all those who engaged in illegal strikes. 

It means the owners indeed are the authors of the strikes, they command their employees to unleash their anger on the public. It is time for this country to establish a fully-fledged public transport authority equipped with the mandate to deal with issues of public transport services. 

This must be an authority with teeth such as the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) and not a window dresser that the RTB is.

Come to think of it, why should commuters dread to face the next morning when they become objects of scorn to conductors all because they have to work for their country and put food at the table for their loved ones. The public deserves better.

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