South Africa

South African bus services under siege

Intercape has scored a major legal victory over the Police and Minister of Transport. They are now obligated to devise measures to protect bus drivers and passengers after hundreds of reported incidents of violence over the past decade.

In a media statement on Wednesday, 10 July 2024, Intercape, Southern Africa’s largest bus operator, announced that it had won its fifth court battle over this matter.

The MEC, the national police commissioner, his Eastern Cape counterpart, and the national Department of Transport have been locked in a years-long legal battle with Intercape.

In September 2022, Intercape won a court order against then-Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and provincial officials to develop a comprehensive plan to protect buses and travellers.

“Intercape has had to turn to the courts to force the government to do its job after 171 cases ranging from assault, vandalism, intimidation, and murder were reported to police, mainly in the Eastern Cape,” the bus operator said. 

“Not a single arrest has been made. Since 2015, the company’s buses have faced a barrage of attacks by taxi drivers and associations seeking to defend their turf.”

“Several passengers have been injured, and two years ago, one of Intercape’s drivers was shot dead.”

On 10 July 2024, Intercape announced that the government and police were denied leave to appeal a judgment ordering them to devise measures against violence targeting long-distance bus drivers and passengers. 

Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira said the ruling must end the authorities’ resistance to their duty to protect the citizens of South Africa. 

Southern Africa’s largest bus operator hopes ministers in the new Government of National Unity will respect the High Court’s ruling.

“This ends their fight of not wanting to protect the citizens of South Africa from criminals,” Ferreira said after the ruling. 

“It is a classic example of the government’s incompetence and lack of interest in protecting the people of South Africa.”

ANC Secretary-General and former Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula

The company said that, despite this being the fifth judgment in Intercape’s favour, none of the other rulings had spurred the government and police into action. 

“The government has fought this tooth and nail, costing the taxpayer millions of rands in legal fees instead of coming up with a plan – not only to do what is legally right by complying with a court order but to fulfil its constitutional mandate by ensuring the safety of its people,” Ferreira said.

“The previous government had no respect for the law or for people’s lives. By doing nothing, they failed.” 

“They gave the impression that they were in cahoots with the taxi industry and effectively handed over the entire intercity transport industry to the mafia.”

For Ferreira, former minister Bheki Cele and Mbalula’s behaviour is an “unforgivable sin” that explains why the ANC lost so much support in the recent elections.

“Criminals were shooting at our drivers and passengers, not at tyres and engines,” he said. 

“We even wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa pleading for help. The SAPS Commissioner was held in contempt of Court, and even that did not result in sufficient action. People lost faith in their ability to govern.”

Officials were due to deliver a revised plan to tackle violence against long-distance buses by early September last year after previous measures were deemed inadequate. 

However, as the deadline approached, the authorities asked Intercape for an extension, which was refused. The MEC and commissioners then appealed the ruling.

In his ruling, Judge John Smith said the MEC and SAPS had acted inconsistently with an intention to appeal, as evidenced by their request for an extension and further revision of the action plan. 

This forfeited their right to appeal, and they only made the ‘U-turn’ when they realised they would be in contempt of court.

“No person can be allowed to approbate and reprobate, in other words, to take up two positions inconsistent with each other,” the judge wrote.

The contention that Intercape would unfairly benefit from an improved safety plan was dismissed because, according to the ruling, the company’s case was generally aimed at ensuring the safety and security of all coach drivers, passengers, and organizations.

Claims by the Transport Minister, the MEC, and the police commissioners that the duration of the relief being sought against them to provide protection is uncertain were also dismissed as “indefensible”. 

“If anything, the duration of that relief is dependent on the Minister and the MEC since they bear the responsibility to develop an adequate revised action plan,” Smith said.

He said the authorities cannot blame a lack of resources for their failure to act. 

In the original ruling, the court found that the police had carried out investigations only to a “limited extent” and had not developed an overall strategy to deal with an “orchestrated campaign” countrywide by the taxi industry against Intercape. 

The police also failed to inform the Hawks, which could have brought specialist skills.

“Intercape’s victory is a significant milestone in the fight against organised crime, for safer public transport, and providing more options for South African commuters,” Ferreira said. 

“This judgment serves as a reminder of the critical need for effective and timely action by public authorities. Cele and Mbalula should be held personally responsible for wasting taxpayers’ money. That’s how we can hold ministers accountable.”

In its media statement, Intercape listed the registered cases of crimes related to its busses since 2014, shown in the table below. 

Nation-wideEastern Cape
Violent intimidation of passengers and drivers, prohibiting coaches to load and off-load10090
Violent intimidation of staff and passengers at offices1512
Attempted murder incidents with firearms 3119
Attempted murder – coaches stoned4640


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