A blaze destroyed eight buses, worth R12 million, belonging to the Algoa Bus Company at the firm’s Motherwell depot on Wednesday night.
Algoa Bus Company CEO Sicelo Duze confirmed the incident, but did not provide any additional information.
Police said at this stage they could not link the blaze to the ongoing violence caused by protesting taxi drivers in Gqeberha.
Since the taxi protest started on Tuesday over Covid-19 relief funds, an Uber vehicle was torched, and a truck was looted before being set ablaze.
Eastern Cape Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge said an on-duty security guard saw one bus going up in flames at around 21:00 on Wednesday.
Beetge said the fire quickly spread to seven other buses and that the security guard could only manage to save two buses.
‘Buses were burning’
Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu added: “It is alleged that while the security guard was conducting his routine patrols around the depot, he noticed a bus on fire. He ran to get assistance and by the time he returned, other buses were burning. No injuries were sustained.”
“The estimated value of the buses is R12 million. A case of malicious damage to property is under investigation by SAPS Motherwell detectives. At this stage there are no arrests,” Naidu said.
Beetge said that at this point “we cannot link it to the taxi protest because there were no fires in the area at the time, and also, it was quite peaceful in Gqeberha from the afternoon, and there were no witnesses to say they saw anybody throwing anything inside [the depot].”
Beetge said police detectives were on the scene on Thursday morning searching for clues.
Motherwell police are investigating a case of malicious damage to property, he said.
Meanwhile, police are on high alert outside the Motherwell Magistrate’s Court where six suspects are expected to appear in connection with the violence.
The suspects – between 20 and 35-years-old – are facing charges under the Criminal Matters Amendment Act, 18 of 2015 – damage to infrastructure and public violence. They were arrested on Tuesday.
Beetge said dozens of minibus taxis were parked outside the court blocking the free flow of traffic.
“Basically they are not happy with the arrest of the six taxi drivers,” said Beetge.
The protest was started by taxi drivers unhappy with taxi owners from the Uncedo Taxi Association over allegations that the bosses are keeping Covid-19 relief funds meant for the drivers, for themselves.
Their fight spilled over onto the streets where passers-by, businesses and schools were affected.
Social media reports suggested that a number of students from tertiary institutions in the Nelson Mandela metro missed exams as a result of roads being blocked and the non-availability of taxis.
The protest saw major routes in Gqeberha barricaded with burning tyres and rubble for the past two days.
Beetge said all major routes had since been re-opened and that police were monitoring the situation.
“At this point in time, we cannot say the taxi strike is over because we have seen a few of them still blocking roads, but all the major routes that were blocked before are open,” Beetge said.
On Thursday, Uncedo Taxi Association chair in Nelson Mandela Bay, Elvis Zamani said the strike was far from over.
Zamani said he was in a meeting with Mayor Nqaba Bhanga and would comment at a later stage.
He previously told News24 that the strike started after a provincial labour department official allegedly informed a taxi driver that it paid funds meant for drivers to the Uncedo Taxi Association.
Zamani denied knowledge of the funds and accused the department of causing the fight.
Department spokesperson Ziphozethu Josefu said it was still investigating the allegation.
Josefu added that senior officials from the departmental were currently in a meeting with Bhanga and Zamani to establish the facts and were attempting to find a resolution to end the protest.
Eastern Cape provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga, warned protesters that even though it was their constitutional right to engage in protests, they should do this in a peaceful manner and within the confines of the law.
“Damaging the infrastructure, destroying property, blockading roads and hindering basic services are criminal acts and will not be tolerated. We will decisively deal with those offenders who are riotous and unruly during these protest actions,” he warned.