Buses and renaming

According to the Mercury of November 26, 2008, it seems that Durban’s bus service is again in trouble.

Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe was reported as telling a committee meeting that the Durban transport operator will not be receiving a subsidy from central government for the period January 2009 to March 2009. The amount of money that was due to be paid to the bus operator is by central government was R46 million and, according to a company spokesman, the company won’t be able to operate without it.

Both central and provincial governments have said that they don’t have the funds to cover that amount and it’s beginning to look awfully as if the city is going to have to cough up the money in addition to the 40 million that it will already have to pay the bus company Remant Alton.

According to the Mercury of December 1, 2008, it seems that things are hotting up in the court case which has been brought by the opposition parties in the Durban Council to the street renaming which took place recently. The leader of the Democratic Alliance John Steenhuisen, and city manager Mike Sutcliffe have apparently been trading insults in the court papers.

Steenhuisen called Sutcliffe “nothing more than an ANC lackey”.

The opposition are bringing the case in an effort to get the renaming reversed and, of course, the city and its ANC leadership, in the form of her Michael Sutcliffe, are vigorously opposing the move. One of the most controversial of the street renamings was when Kingsway in Amanzimtoti was renamed after Andrew Zondo, who had set a bomb at a shopping centre in the town, killing a number of innocent civilians.

On that particular issue Sutcliffe said “Naturally there are strong feelings each way about Andrew Zondo. Such is our history.”


Bus troubles again

The Mercury of November 25, 2008, reported that the Durban bus service could come to halt next January. The bus operator Remant Alton has apparently not receive national transport subsidies from December to March. The company apparently gets R11.5 million per month and will therefore be R46 million short over the festive season area. Erik Moller, deputy head of the city’s transport authority, admitted that it was a big problem said he believed that the best solution would be if the money came from the National Treasury or that the province could come to the assistance of the company. The current municipal subsidy of R10 million was apparently still be paid to Remant Alton by the municipality.

In other news, it appears that contestants from the Miss world 2008 competition will be in town for a couple of days, starting on Wednesday, November 26, 2008. 112 contestants will apparently be in the city for photo shoots on the beach and at the Beverly Hills Hotel, before proceeding to Johannesburg for the competition. Hope they don’t get ill swimming at our non-Blue Flag beaches!

The paper reported that Enden Refinery should be back in operation by mid-January after a disastrous fire shut down the installation two weeks ago. The fire was apparently caused by mechanical failure on a pump.


Mismanagement or corruption?

It was good news about the buses, as mentioned in the previous post, but the Sunday Tribune, of October 26, 2006, also carried a story to do with the episode that wasn’t such good news. It turns out that the amount of government subsidy received by the Remant Alton bus company, and what it was spent on, is not open to public scrutiny. The Tribune apparently asked to see financial statements and the request was refused by Remant Alton and the municipality. There is suspicion in some quarters that the money has been misused and that there are people in bed with each other who should not be.

The ANC-appointed city manager Mike Sutcliffe dismissed such ‘crazy claims’ and said that there had been an oversight process. This is in spite of the fact that John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance caucus on the council, said that no Remant Alton financial statements had been presented to the EXCO in the last five years.

It seems pretty clear to me that there has to have been incompetance or dirty work at the cross roads but the really worrying bit is why city management is feeling the need to cover up. Are they involved? And how?

This is not the first episode mentioned in these pages which involves the municipality refusing to give us details about how our money is spent. They are actually our representatives and our employees and are supposed to be accountable to us, but they are not behaving in the least like it. Some democracy this is turning into…..


Bus strike over !!!

The good news in the Sunday Tribune, of October 26, 2006, apart from KZN winning the rugby Currie Cup yesterday, is that the strike by bus drivers is finally over. The news was very unexpected and it isn’t all together clear how the breakthrough came to be. The article is a bit confused, to my eyes at least, but it seems that a deal was brokered with the help of eThekwini ANC chairperson John Mchunu. It seems that a consultative forum to decide on the future of public transport in city is to established and that it is to include driver representation. More details when I get them.

I’m very glad that things are sorted and I hope that they stay that way. I am sympathetic to the drivers but feel that they could have played the game a bit better and kept essential services running. One of the papers last week reported that disabled people were among the ones to suffer most from the strike because their bus service was also suspended and minibus taxis don’t have facilities for wheelchairs. Some disabled school pupils at sleep over at their schools for a time because the strike started after they were dropped off at school and the drivers didn’t even pick them up again before knocking off work. I also know that senior citizens, dependent on the buses to get out from their retirement complexes to pay bills or whatever, have had a very hard time as well.



Snippets from the week

I had intended to use this blog on a very occasional basis to record noteworthy things happening around the city but I’m starting to feel withdrawal symptoms if I should miss a couple of days, as happened this week when I had to go away on business. So here goes…

The Mercury of October 14, 2008, reported that Helen Zille, the mayor of Cape Town, was recently voted best mayor in the world. See mention of a reader’s letter, below, for an explanation of why this is unlikely to happen in Durban. Also, according to the paper, Independent bus operators have refused Remant Alton’s offer for them to take over its routes for fear of being targeted by striking workers.

The Mercury of October 15, 2008, reported that police had arrested two men for alledgedly plotting to kill a Durban Solid Waste Manager. They were arrested in Sydney Road and their car was to to contain two revolvers, ammunition, and some petrol bombs. In other news, Alfred Zondi, the chairman of the KZN Bus Council, called on the KZN Transport MEC Bheki Cele to intervene in the dispute between Remant Alton and its striking workers.

The requirements of Fifa for the World Cup in 2010 sound draconian to say the least. The Mercury reported 2010 Project Head Julie-May Ellingson as saying that, by 2010, the city will be empowered to immediately remove offending signage from buildings, especially anything which conflicts with Fifa’s requirements. At the moment, the city needs a court order before it can remove signage and that’s fine by me.

It’s a puzzle why we should tolerate such interference in our affairs. It would have been better in the longrun to have told Fifa to keep their World Cup. It seems that the city is running out of money (not surprising when you consider the extravagance onvolved in the new stadium) because Ellingson also appealed to business for R15-million to upgrade facilities around the stadium.

In another story, the eThekwini Municipality was awarded the best credit rating of any municpality in Africa. This is bad news as far as I’m concerned, because our masters are surely going to be tempted to borrow more money on the strength of that.

Residents around Inanda Dam have been warned not to eat fish caught in the dam or vegetables grown nearby. Apparently the water has been found to contain elevayed levels of Mercury. A further study is to done.

The Mercury of October 16, 2008, reported that riot police, snipers and helicopters had prevented a march by Remant Alton and Durban Solid Waste workers through Durban the previous day. City Manager Michael Sutcliffe said the decision had been taken for security reason because the march had the potential to turn violent.

Sounds to me like something that a National Party functionary might have said in the bad old days, not a senior member of an organistion that, itself, has a long history of fighting against injustice. You’d expect the authorities to be more sympathetic to workers who feel they are victims of injustice but I guess its only injustice if it’s done to you, not if its done by you…

The paper also reports that environmental affairs and tourism depty minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi has spoken negatively about the city’s loss of its Blue Flag beaches. The comments were made the previous day at a meeting at the Point Yacht club to launch a national action plan to protect our coastline. A brochure describing the plan apparently says that the loss of Blue Flag status could have a severe impact on tourism and business.

A reader’s letter, signed ‘Saddened’, in the Independent on Saturday, of October 18, 2008, has some comments about the recent award of Best Mayor in the World to Helen Zille, mayor of Cape Town. The reader says that he or she recently spent a week in Cape Town and found the streets to clean and well-maintained, that the traffic signals all worked and that he or she felt safe walking around in the evening. This contrasts strongly with the situation in Durban and the writer wonders whether this has anything to do with the fact that the DA is running Cape Town and the ANC, with its pre-occupation with minor issues such as street-renaming, is running this city.


Taxi strike?

The Natal Mercury of October 9, 2008, reported that the minibus taxi industry is threatening to strike in sympathy with the striking Durban Solid Waste & Remant Alton workers. The threat was made by KZN Transport Alliance Chairman Eugene Hadebe.

Meanwhile, at the launch of the SA Communist Party’s Red October campaign in Umlazi on Thursday, secretary-general Blade Nzimande called on the municipality to sort out the strike forthwith. I agree with this sentiment but can’t help wondering how on earth there can possibly be still be a communist party in this day and and age.

The paper has a splendid aerial picture of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and a number of other vessels, including the SAS Drakensberg and SAS Isandlwana, particpating in exercises (Operation Flower II) off Durban. So that’s why needed we needed those smart and expensive frigates!


Short updates

The bits and pieces of news have been piling up so I thought I’d have a clear-out.

Sunday Tribune – October 5, 2008.

The paper reports that there are plans to declare the beachfront area a glass-free zone and outlaw public drinking. This is in response to the events described I described here. In addition, on the Friday night, there was a strong police presence and mini-bus taxis and buses were barred from entering the beachfront area. There are apparently also plans to keep a track of where buses and taxis come from in future.

In act assumed to be somehow connected with the bus drivers’ strike, 19 buses were set alight at the depot at Ntuzuma early on Friday morning. A picture in the Tribune shows the buses absolutely gutted and one doubts if they could ever be repaired. This is not the first time that Remant Alton buses have been set alight, with 59 having been burnt in an attack on the Umlazi depot on April 23, 2006. You would have thought that with that experience, and given the present tense situation, they would have stepped up security at ther depots.

The Mercury, October 6, 2008

The paper reports that commuters are likely to be without buses for another week.

The Mercury, October 7, 2008

A heist at the Riverside Hotel (ex Athlone) netted millions in jewells which were going to be auctioned at the hotel. The robbery took place at 7am on October 6, as the jewells were being moved into the auction area.

I’ve already noted that two Durban Solid Waste trucks were set alight last Wednesday. Two more were burnt in an attack at 11pm on the DSW depot at Clairwood onOctober, 4. The paper reported that 80% of DSW workers were back on the job and that some collections were being done over the weekend. As noted in an earlier post, our rubbish was collected today in Waterfall.

The Mercury, October 8, 2008

The paper reports Remant Alton as having closed down indefinitely as result of the the three week drivers’ strike. Executive officer Paul Rush said that the company was planning to recruit sub-contractors to operate its routes. Now, that should be fine recipe for chaos. And there could be more on the way if strikers go ahead with plans to march through town on Friday, in spite of being refused permission by the city to do so. I find it ironic that a city run by the ANC, an organisation founded to fight for democracy, has no problem denying others the right to protest.


The bus strike continues

The Natal Mercury, of September 29, 2008, reports that the buses could be off the streets for another two months. The drivers are objecting to having to work for Remant Alton and I can’t say I blame them much. The lack of transport is causing all sorts of problems, as you might expect, and it’s all down to the municipality’s fatally flawed decision to sell off the bus service in the first place. I’ve got a car, thank God, but I feel for all those who do not.


The strike continues

The Mercury of Wednesday, September 24, 2008, reports that Remant Alton (our lovely bus company) has fired over 350 bus drivers for participating in an illegal strike. The strike was precipitated by Deputy City Manager Derek Naidoo’s article on the background to the ongoing bus debacle which I reported here.

The drivers were reported in Wednesday’s Mercury as saying that they did not want to work for Remant Alton, because of its history of financial mismanagement, and that they would prefer to work for the municpality. Naidoo replied to the drivers by saying that the munipality was not in a position to take them on. I can imagine how that soothed the drivers’ passions.

The Mercury of today, September 25, 2008, reports that Remant Alton was to use trainee drivers and advertise for new staff in an attempt to beat the strike.

The comment was made along the way by Naidoo that the city could not break its contract with Remant Alton unless it defaulted. So why buy the buses from the company? The best course would have been to let it go bust and for the municpality to take over the bus service. It seems to me to be the height of folly to buy the buses back from them but, despite their poor history, let them still run the service.

There are few details available as yet but city management have come up with what seems like another harebrained scheme. This time they have some notion of getting the minibus taxi operators involved in the running of the bus service once remant Alton’s contract expires in late 2010. More details as and when…


Strike on the buses

An article in the council mouthpiece Ezasegagasini Metro, which accompanied the Mercury on Friday, September 19, 2008, had an unintended consequence when it caused an impromptu strike among staff members of Remant Alton, the company which sort of runs our bus service. The article was written by Deputy City Manager Derek Naidoo and was intended to lay to rest the puzzlement felt by most citizens when it was learnt that that the bus service had originally been been sold to Remant Alton for R70-million and was being bought back for a R405 million.

Naidoo pointed out that included in the deal were many buses that had been bought by Remant Alton since acquiring the service. He said that the R405-million purchase price included 514 of Remant Alton’s best buses and some equipment.He said that the municipality would buy a further 162 new buses which would all be leased back to Remant Alton until their contract expired in 2010. The operation of the bus service will then be farmed out to a number of smaller operators. Crucially, the article said that the deal applied only to buses and equipment and not Remant Alton staff. Accordingly, many of them went on strike leaving commuters stranded, as reported here in the Independent Online. It’s not yet clear what the outcome will be.

Dear Derek: I said before the last sale that it would be a mistake to privatise the bus service. Farming it out to small operators would be another mistake! Public transport is not something that can be done really well at a profit.