GroundUp: Behind the special needs bus attack
It was widely reported last week that a vehicle dedicated to carrying people with disabilities was attacked and the occupants left traumatised. But what was the protest about and how did a Dial-a-Ride bus end up being targeted? By Peter Luhanga and William Yoder for GROUNDUP.
First published by GroundUp
At 6pm on 2 October, four people with disabilities – three in wheelchairs and one blind – were left distraught after their specially adapted vehicle was caught up in a housing protest. While they were strapped in their seats the windows were smashed and the tyres were deflated. One passenger had to be hospitalised overnight.
The next day, the Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Brett Herron, said: “I cannot begin to imagine the fear these commuters must have felt while being attacked.”
Herron said protesters took out their anger and frustration on public transport services. He cited numerous recent incidents.
Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut said no arrests had been made “as yet”.
The attack took place at the corner of Symphony Way and Stellenbosch Arterial. Another bus was sent to pick up the passengers after the attack.
The last attack on a Dial-a-Ride vehicle was seven years ago according to the city.
Debbie Bedien, a member of the Dial-A-Ride Users’ Forum, says the buses used to be plain white with yellow Dial-a-Ride logos. But now Dial-a-Ride buses have large MyCiTi and Transport for Cape Town logos on the sides and are in the same colour scheme as MyCiTi buses.
“Whether it was taxi strikes, public strikes, or bus strikes, we weren’t affected,” said Bedien. “Now, all they see is the city’s emblem, MyCiTi.”
Bedien said they had raised this with city long before the attack, pointing out that people who were not disabled would come up to the bus and try to board it thinking it was an ordinary MyCiTi bus.
Asked for comment, the city said the vehicle was clearly marked on the back and side.
Dial-a-Ride vehicles only have a disability sign on one side. Also, the signage does not make it clear that the vehicle is solely dedicated to transporting people with disability, as opposed to a vehicle that is just disability friendly.
Blikkiesdorp community leader Victor Mahlinini, himself the father of two children with disabilities, said he had been living for nearly 10 years in a one-room shack which he shares with his wife and children. Both his children have Down Syndrome.
Mahlinini, who did not take part in the protest, said residents were furious because the N2 Gateway housing was not being used for people in the temporary relocation area. He said his housing subsidy had been approved in 2009 and that when he went to check at the Civic Centre he was informed his house was completed but that someone else was living in it.
But, he said, the attack on the Dial-a-Ride bus was “very bad and very sad”.
Ward 106 councillor Xolani Ndongeni (ANC) said the protesting Blikkiesdorp residents and backyard dwellers in Delft had been waiting for houses for a long time and delays in the allocation process were causing frustration.
“The only assistance I can give them is directions to the office of the provincial Human Settlements department,” he said.
He said it was not only Blikkiesdorp residents that were protesting but also backyarders in Delft and people from Tsunami informal settlement. But Western Cape Department of Human Settlements spokesperson Nathan Adriaanse said: “It is incorrect that the project is supposed to accommodate people from Blikkiesdorp (only).” DM
Photo: Blikkiesdorp, also known as ‘Tin Can Town’, near Delft. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks