GEORGE NEWS - Last week's operation Thatha Zonke had many road users of George furious and confused when provincial traffic officers, accompanied by police, conducted roadblocks and Ghost Squad vehicles chased motorists at high speed.
According to the traffic authorities the operation, which saw 1 968 vehicles stopped, was a response to illegal public transport operations and lawlessness by minibus taxi operators within the George area, which resulted from the recent national bus strike.
Farrel Payne, director of Traffic Law Enforcement at the Department of Transport and Public Works, said that during the strike action, minibus taxi drivers became more aggressive towards traffic law enforcement officials. "This became evident when unknown men freed an illegal operator while in the custody of traffic officials."
Determined to restore law and order on the roads, traffic officials launched Thatha Zonke (Nguni for "take everything"), deploying a team of 30 provincial traffic officers of the Ghost Squad, so named for their use of unmarked high-performance vehicles fitted with automated number plate recognition systems.
Some motorists claimed they were not treated fairly by traffic officials and some alleged that the high-speed chases endangered other motorists on the road. Motorist Leandro Muller felt that his rights were violated by traffic officials during the operation. He alleged that he was unlawfully arrested and detained for seven hours at the Conville police station.
"I was driving with my 4-year-old son and my fiancé when a traffic official stopped us in Nelson Mandela Boulevard on the morning of Tuesday 22 May. I stopped and waited for further instruction, but as the official didn't come back to me to tell me why he had stopped me, I started to drive off. He stopped me again and again left. When I drove off again, he chased us and smashed the side of my car. He called back-up and I was taken to the police station where I was later told I have been arrested for reckless driving and assault, something which I didn't do," said Muller.
Conville police confirmed that Muller was arrested for the said charges. At the time of going to print, the Western Cape Traffic Department had not replied to an e-mail asking for comment.
According to Payne the following successes were recorded for the duration of the operation from Monday to Saturday, 21 to 27 May:
- Section 56 notices - 381
- Minibus taxis impounded - 40
- Vehicles suspended - 66
- Arrests: Driving under the influence of alcohol (15), reckless and negligent driving (2), fraudulent operating licence (1), illegal immigrant (1), excessive speed (1) and fraudulent driving license (1).
"The objectives of the operation have been achieved successfully," said Payne, "however, Provincial Traffic Services warns that the behaviour of operators will be closely monitored for the next few weeks and if the need is identified, the team will be deployed to the George area to action any further law enforcement initiatives to rectify the situation."
Payne thanked motorists for their understanding and patience during the week-long operation.
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