“A moving graveyard” is how Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele described an SA Roadlink bus – which had its undercarriage held together by rope – after it was pulled off the road yesterday.
The bus had been travelling from Durban to Joburg when it was stopped at a major roadblock at the Mariannhill Toll Plaza as thousands of holidaymakers made their way out of the province.
The roadblock was set up as part of the Transport Department’s Arrive Alive – Make Roads Safe campaign.
“What the hell is going on? You are less than 20 minutes from your departure point and you have already been pulled over,” an angry Ndebele told the driver. “This is supposed to be called a luxury liner but is more like a moving graveyard… This is attempted murder.”
The driver told Ndebele that he was instructed to drive the bus by his manager but he denied that anything was wrong with the bus.
A heated argument erupted between passengers and the driver of the coach, who refused to answer their questions.
But Ndebele told the angry passengers: “It’s better late than never, it’s about your life and not about the time.”
Gauteng resident Shirley Themba, who was travelling home on the coach, said: “I don’t understand how he can drive a bus like that; it shocks me. This is the first and last time I will ever travel (with) this bus company.”
The head of the KZN Transport Department, Chris Hlabisa, described the coach as a “safety hazard”.
“(It) was classified as unroadworthy. Firstly, the undercarriage was held together by a rope, the windows could not open and the air conditioner and toilet were not working. The door could not open from the inside and the driver’s door was practically hanging on a hinge… it is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Hlabisa said that the driver’s driving licence would be suspended and that the bus would be impounded.
A new coach was due to be arranged by Ndebele to transport the passengers to Gauteng.
“We have noticed that motorists are beginning to comply with law enforcement. They are making a conscious decision to obey the rules of the road,” said Ndebele.
“But the main problem is the SA Roadlink buses… we are not targeting them but they want to skyrocket road fatalities. We will see who gets tired first, but the government won’t get tired. We will continue to clamp down on their buses until they know it is unprofitable to use unroadworthy vehicles.”
SA Roadlink CEO Alan Reddy yesterday said he was unaware of the incident.
“I’m not in the country at the moment so I’m not in a position to comment on that,” he said.
He referred all queries to Joe Mushwana, the chief operations officer, saying “he must answer your questions”.
Mushwana vehemently denied that the undercarriage was held together by a rope.
“It’s not true. The bus was declared unroadworthy – but only because the aircon and the toilet were not working. The driver’s door wasn’t opening from the outside for security reasons.”
Asked about the company’s maintenance budget and procedures in light of previous incidents involving the company’s coaches, he said such questions were irrelevant.
“What does that have to do with anything? We are talking about this incident. When did people die?
“Talk to me when you want to be professional and have relevant questions,” he said.
Meanwhile, roads are also expected to be busy tomorrow and during the coming long weekend.
According to Transport Department spokeswoman Zinhle Mngomezulu, up to 3 000 cars were recorded at KZN toll plazas each day last weekend.
Preliminary figures provided by Ndebele show that there were 150 fatalities and 250 arrests for traffic violations recorded nationally.
This was significantly lower than last year’s figures of 244 deaths and 654 arrests during the same period, he said. –
[ Story by MEGAN VAN DEN HEEVER and DASEN THATHIAH appeared in The Star]