The South African police at the Maseru Border Post on Tuesday this week denied members of the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) permission to ferry passengers into South Africa, arguing they feared violent reaction from Free State taxi operators.
This was despite the fact that the MRTO members hired their own security from Durban last week, which they are paying M57 000 a week to protect their members as they take passengers to various destinations in South Africa.
According to MRTO chairman Mokete Jonase, Bloemfontein-based South African police had agreed to collaborate with the Taxi and Violence Unit Security from Durban in providing their members with security following countless attacks by Free State taxi owners, who accused them of “stealing our business”.
However, as soon as three taxis had just crossed the Maseru Border Post, they were stopped and ordered back to Lesotho with the police saying they feared their presence in South Africa could spark violence.
Mr Jonase said: “Our taxis crossed the Maseru Border Gate at around 1pm because we had reached an agreement with the Bloemfontein police that they would work with the private security we had hired, in protecting our members while they ferried passengers in South Africa.
“But the taxis were stopped on the South African side of the border by the police, who said they could not proceed because they feared they would be attacked.
“The argument with the police continued until the taxi drivers decided to come back to Lesotho and then went all the way to the Butha-Buthe Border Gate, where they then crossed and proceeded to Gauteng and Rustenburg.”
According to Mr Jonase, their members would do whatever it takes to take passengers across the border.
He continued: “What also happened was our private security officers were disarmed by the South African police, who said they wanted to check if their firearms were registered.
“However, seven of the weapons were returned the same day, except one, which the police said they still needed to check and see if it had not been used to commit any crime. Again, on Tuesday night, the South African police went to the homes of three of the guards we had hired and arrested them. To this day, we don’t know why this happened as the guards are still in custody.”
Asked why the operators continue risking their lives and property as their vehicles are sometimes set alight in South Africa, Mr Jonase said: “We deserve a stake in this operation, just the same way that taxi operators from other southern African countries are taking passengers into South Africa.”