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This transcript is a translation from the original interview, which was conducted in Afrikaans and aired on RSG Geldsake, here.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: In October last year I chatted to Johann Ferreira of Intercape, and this was after the Eastern Cape High Court ordered the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, and the Eastern Cape MEC for transport to draw up a plan of action and present it to the court as to how they would stop attacks on Intercape buses in the Eastern Cape. This came in the wake of disgruntled taxi operators attacking Intercape buses almost daily, because Intercape’s services were considerably cheaper than those of the taxis. Among other things, they were shooting at the buses and throwing stones at them. Many people have been injured.
Instead of listening to the court and involving himself in drawing up the plan, Fikile Mbalula rather opted to apply for leave to appeal against the court order – and that application was dismissed this week.
Johann Ferreira is once again on the line. Johann, welcome to the programme. The situation is almost bizarre. The court orders the minister to do his work, and he wants to lodge an appeal. That application has now been dismissed. But what is the current situation for your operations there in the Eastern Cape?
JOHANN FERREIRA: Good afternoon, Ryk and the listeners. On January 15 , this coming Sunday, we will resume the suspended services in the Eastern Cape. That means that we will start serving the five towns that we have been unable to serve for the past year. We trust that the police and the MEC for transport in the Eastern Cape, as well as the National Minister of Transport, will execute the plan they have on the table.
We are in contact with the police and they have been deployed in those areas and in the towns. We at Intercape have, over and above the support of the police and the traffic, also arranged private security to be present when the buses enter the towns and [surrounding] areas. So that is the situation. We are also in business. We are taking reservations. Should there be any incidents those will be put on record. And if we feel that the policing is inadequate we will immediately turn to the court for a more comprehensive plan to be determined by the court and imposed on the police, as well as on the national minister of transport, together with the MEC for transport in the Eastern Cape.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Fikile Mbalula wasn’t involved in the formulation of that plan. The Eastern Cape MEC was…. What was in the plan submitted, what was their solution to this problem?
JOHANN FERREIRA: It’s a standard solution. What the do is they take standard, let’s say, policies and procedures out of the charter or, let’s say, policing prescripts, and then publish that as a plan. In other words, what they say is that visual policing will take place, there will be road blocks, special emphasis will be placed on the validity of permits, etc. It’s very vague and also very broad. That’s a plan that we as Intercape criticised, and we tabled a very specific plan with specific outcomes. This plan was ignored in its entirety.
So at this point we have no option but to accept what is on the table – which we consider very vague and potentially inadequate – for the present. We therefore have put in extra private security, over and above the policing – costing us thousands of rands every day – to see what will ultimately happen.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: This situation is also playing out in other industries, such as in the mining and construction sectors. There are mining and construction mafias, the costs for which hugely inflates the cost of doing business in South Africa.
I assume you have liaised with other industries experiencing similar conditions, where the police and the responsible departments are doing absolutely nothing to put things right. Have there been such discussions?
JOHANN FERREIRA: No, to date there haven’t been such discussions. But I can tell you that from the moment we started taking action – taking a stand for what is right and refusing to submit to bribery and hooliganism and the like – I have seen through it all that the police are powerless. Many of them are in the pockets of the taxis, specifically in the Eastern Cape. I recognise that the minister of transport, the minister of police and the state president don’t want to do anything because at the end of the day … I think it’s time that South Africa and the public see things for what they are.
Ultimately it’s the taxis calling the tune for government. In other words, the tail is wagging the dog.
We can speculate about this, and we can chat about it, but I’m telling you it’s a fact.
Here we have a proverbial example where a minister simply refused to give attention to distress calls and warnings in not one, not two, but several attorneys’ letters, social media and newspapers.
I warned them, ‘You’ll have blood on your hands, people will be murdered’. People have been murdered, people injured. The minister nevertheless decided it was not his job; the Road transport Act does not state that he and the MEC have to take action.
That is the feeblest type of argument, and that’s what they brought to court.
So halfway through the proceedings of the three court cases his legal team gave up; he got a new legal team.
When we submitted a Section 18 application to oblige the minister to support the MEC’s plan of action, the minister suddenly rolled over to say, okay, okay, I was wrong, I will support it, but I’m not supposed to work with the MEC, and I’ll take that on appeal.
It is of course South African public money being squandered on senseless, absurd court cases.
Fikile [Mbalula] is the minister recently promoted by the state president, now appointed ANC secretary-general. Just this past weekend he stood up and declared that strong action would be taken against ministers not doing their work.
He is one whom the court on three occasions ordered to do his job, and the one who has now, I might say, been found guilty of not doing his job. He is not even getting leave to appeal because his case is too weak.
So I really think that the South African public and the business sector should see things for what they are. We have extremely weak leadership in … and we must really hold [President] Ramaphosa responsible for this situation because he makes poor choices, absolutely poor choices.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: But is this incompetence or – might I say – corruption involved?
JOHANN FERREIRA: I think corruption is involved, and thus incompetence. I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think it’s a combination of a number of things. I think at the end of the day the play on words there, when a hired vehicle or a taxi is involved, it’s ‘a taxi and occupants’, never naming a person, never giving an address. And so it goes, on and on. If a bus or an aircraft causes an accident involving people it’s a major event. I think South Africa has become so desensitised – if I may use that word – that it’s ‘just another person who died’.
What I find strange is that, should a high-profile person be attacked or have his life threatened, everyone jumps up and down. But when a bus driver is shot, cold-bloodedly murdered – and there are still these attacks where a man was shot through the windscreen, five metres away in full daylight – then that’s not an assassination, it’s ‘violence’. It’s not violence, it’s terrorism. If an aircraft is shot while ascending, what would we consider that? Would we also call it ‘violence’? No, it’s not violence, it’s terrorism. So we need to see it for what it is.
I just think [President] Ramaphosa has completely overplayed his hand in appointing these poor ministers, [Bheki] Cele being one, whom we are now also going to sue, together with the National Prosecuting Authority, because they do nothing. More than 150 cases have been put on hold. There has been one arrest, and that person is out on bail. Why? Because the evidence submitted is ‘too weak’, so there really is no case.
What’s the bottom line of all this? It’s that the police are not dong their job. They cannot do their job because they are either incompetent or their hands are tied. Neither do they cooperate.
I want to conclude by saying that government is supposed to consist of departments that cooperate. That’s what ‘cooperative government’ is. So while he does not understand the fundamental principles of how he should manage his divisions, his ministry – because cooperative management means working together – he [Mbalula] will not cooperate with the MEC because, according to him that’s not in the act, not in the Constitution. That’s how the ANC decided to rule the country, And now he is the head of the ANC.
I’m telling you that our country has more problems that we want to believe or acknowledge, because everything is labelled ‘race’, which has nothing to do with competence.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Johann, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for your time tonight. I’m sure we will chat again. That was Johann Ferreira from Intercape.
Aside to Sasfin Wealth head of advice Johan Gouws:
RYK VAN NIEKERK: From one Johann to another Johan [here from Sasfin Wealth], those are strong words, but I think it’s time that someone stands up and says, listen, this is the scenario playing out. I really believe it’s not just in this industry, but in in every industry, and especially in the mining and construction industries.
JOHAN GOUWS: That’s true, Ryk. We should all be optimistic, but you can be optimistic only to a point, and then you have to face reality. I think it’s good that we have people such as Johann [Ferreira] who can clearly point these things out. These are things we can no longer ignore.