Botswana’s public bus and combi drivers are a happy-go lucky bunch. They swear at motorists, force them off the road and swerve into their paths leaving them fulminating at combi rear windscreens, on which are stenciled legends like “Boss of the road” or “Don’t laugh, your daughter may be inside.”
These days, however, this carefree attitude has taken a dangerous Wild Wild West edge. A new generation of pirate public transport operators is muscling into the industry and is believed to be trying to run old hands out of town.
“We are sitting on a time bomb,” says the Botswana Bus Association (BBA) chairperson, Tirafalo Mponang. The BBA boss does not mean to scare anyone. It’s just a bit difficult for him to talk about the goings on in the public transport industry without using phrases like “time bomb” and “bloodshed.” After all, there may even be a bullet with his name in it. In the warfare gripping the industry, Mponang’s position alone is enough to put his life in danger.
It is not exactly a gung-ho take anyone out kind of scenario, but it may be coming to that. Even police and public officials admit that the public transport industry is now increasingly the playground of criminals. On-going investigations by Botswana Police Service into the Public Service Vehicle Permit black market suggest that government officials may be in on the racket with pirate operators.
Botswana Police Service Director of Traffic Division, Senior Assistant Commissioner Bruno Paledi told Sunday Standard that they are aware that some pirate public transport operators are using forged permits. The rogue operators have so far managed to evade police detection.
“It is difficult to arrest operators using forged permits unless we are notified of such permits,” said Paledi.
Acting Director, Road Transport and Safety, Oganne Maroba, also confirmed that they have launched an investigation into the Public Service Vehicle permit black market. He said once the investigations are complete they would be able to tell how many PSV permits have been forged.
Maroba said since last week his department has been re-registering permit holders and the information will be computerized.
The Chairman of the Transport Appeal Tribunal Board, Kesiametswe Gabaake, revealed this week that the board is snowed under PSV permits complaints. Some complaints are from applicants who have been in the queue for PSV permits only to discover that their competitors have been able to jump the queue and are already transporting commuters.
The crisis is now turning nasty as the rogue operators are said to be trying to muscle out established operators.
Public Service Transport bullies have always blighted the industry with incidences of fist fights at the bus rank, but this is a new generation of public transport bullies who hire hit-men to take out their competitors and torch their competitors’ buses and kombis.
In fact, Public bus and combi operators say they have to constantly look over their shoulders for competitors who may want to harm them. Bus and combi drivers who expect to wake up to their vehicles ready to hit the road are increasingly startled to find their buses and kombis torched to charred skeletons.
In the past few weeks, a total of eight public service buses were burned down under mysterious circumstances in Serowe and Francistown.
Recently, two mini buses (kombis) belonging to Ikageleng Transports and a bus that belongs to NKK Express were burned down where they were parked during the night.
Early last month, five buses belonging to TJ Motlhogelwa were also burned down in Francistown by unknown suspects. And on Monday last week, two men appeared briefly before the Serowe senior magistrate on three counts of malicious damage to property.
The accused persons, Moganetsi Sebego, 34, of Tlokweng, a bus operator, and Patrick Tlhofaetse, 26, of Mmopane Village, were given bail of P2 000 each while police investigations are
The Director of Traffic Division at the Botswana Police, Senior Assistant Commissioner, Bruno Paledi, said two men are in the centre of investigations following the burning of two 25-seater mini buses and a 60-seater bus that plies the Gaborone-Serowe route.
He said that the 60-seater bus was completely burned down while the other two are repairable.
The police officer says it is too early to tell what the motive was.
Acting Director Road Transport and Safety, Oganne Maroba, would not discuss details of the case as police investigations are still ongoing.
Detective Assistant Superintendent, Gagoitsiwe Seisa, of Central Police Station in Francistown, told Sunday Standard that they have not yet arrested any culprits in connection with the burning of the five buses belonging to TJ Motlhogelwa.
He said that “as police we strongly suspect foul play”.
He appealed to the members of the public to forward any information that could lead to arrests of the culprits.
Industry corridors are abuzz with rumours of a hired assassin who has been given a list of bus operators to take out. They also talk of arsonists hired to run competitors out of town.
Botswana Bus Association Chairperson, Tirafalo Mponang, told Sunday Standard that the transport industry is now becoming dirty.
He said as an association, they were shocked to hear that one of the bus operators is among the suspects.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that the suspected bus operator is a member of the association,” adding that there is a fight for turf between members of the association and non members.
“This is a clear sign that we are seating on a time bomb.”