Western Cape taxi violence brings lives to a halt

Not only has a major taxi route in the province been closed, but even clinics are empty because health workers cannot get to their places of employment.

“This is putting a strain on my pockets. I must now pay someone’s car to take me to the bus,” said Bulelani Mthombo, who lives in Nyanga and works in the Cape Town CBD. “Not only am I paying more money now, I am putting my life and that of the owner of a car at risk because if taxi drivers notice that, it means we are both dead.”

Mthombo is among the many Capetonians who have not only been living in fear because of the taxi violence that has hit the city, but also been massively inconvenienced by it. The battle between the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta) has erupted in Bellville, Khayelitsha, Delft, Mfuleni, Langa and Nyanga, causing major disruptions to an already failing public transport service.

The Gugulethu Community Health Centre, which renders service to thousands of patients from Gugulethu, New Crossroads, the KTC shack settlement and Philippi, was forced to close on Monday 19 July. “I have been standing at this gate from Monday telling patients that they cannot be treated as there is no staff inside,” said a security guard who works at the centre. 

Nombulelo Nzuza, 45, a diabetes patient who had arrived to collect her medicine, was worried. “I don’t know how long I will survive without my medication. I thought a security guard was making a joke when he said I must return home. It was after he let me in that I realised there was no staff inside.”

Petronella Mavuso said she was concerned about her sister who is heavily pregnant. “She can give birth anytime. She has to be constantly monitored but the clinic is closed. What about emergency patients? Will they die because the clinic is closed?”

23 July 2021: Taxis belonging to the rival associations that are in conflict have stayed away from the taxi rank in central Cape Town, making it difficult or even impossible for people to get to work.

The continuing taxi violence has been caused by a disagreement over the lucrative Paarl-Mbekweni and Belville route, which has since been closed by the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works. The violence has not only hit the two taxi associations, but alternative transport like buses and even private cars have been attacked for ferrying passengers who have been left stranded by the taxis. 

Although the police are reluctant to provide information on the number of casualties, citing a moratorium on the release of statistics on the matter, it is believed that about 23 people have died since the most recent violence broke out in July. According to some estimates, at least 82 people have been murdered this year because of the violence. 

A source said three men believed to be taxi hitmen were arrested on 15 July after the car they were driving was detected on CCTV. Metro police officers pulled over the suspects and found them in possession of firearms.

Asked how many people have died in the violence and the number of those arrested, provincial police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said: “In response to your enquiry, kindly be advised that due to a moratorium crime statistics cannot be disclosed, as it is released on a quarterly basis by the minister of police.”

Disappointment after progress

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has held talks with the leaders of the two taxi associations as well as the South African National Taxi Council. “We are here to reinforce the efforts of the province and ensure an intergovernmental, multidisciplinary and targeted approach to safety, which is the only way to restore law and order in the taxi industry,” Mbalula said on 18 July.

“This is not the first time the national government has intervened in the affairs of the taxi industry in the Western Cape. We were here last year and were encouraged by signs that the industry had turned over a new leaf. The leadership of Cata and Codeta even sat side by side at the national taxi lekgotla, which took place in August 2020,” Mbalula added. 

“All these were positive signs that the industry was headed in the right direction. We are disappointed by the recent turn of events. Those who choose to resolve the industry disagreements through the barrel of a gun will not be shown leniency. They will face the full might of the law.”

Codeta spokesperson Andile Khanyi said the association was “sick and tired of this violence. It affects innocent lives.” Cata spokesperson Andile Seyamo said it seemed as though operators did not adhere to the restrictions and permissions of their operating licences.

The Nyanga bus terminus, which is adjacent to the Cata taxi rank, is among the most affected. Both are now deserted, with a contingency of soldiers accompanied by the police keeping an eye on the area.

23 July 2021: A man walks across the eerily empty taxi rank in central Cape Town.

The blame game 

A Cata taxi driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed Codeta for the violence. “We [Cata and Codeta] agreed to share the Paarl route. But Codeta turned away our taxis when we were dropping off passengers.”

He said it was agreed that Cata taxis would take passengers from Nyanga, Belville and Kraaifontein to Paarl but come back empty. “As per the agreement, I took passengers from Bellville to Paarl. While I was still offloading I was told not to come back. I asked why. I was told to do as I was told. This is how this violence was started,” he said.

But a Codeta taxi driver, who also did not want to be named, said Cata was tasting its own medicine. “Many routes are controlled by Cata in the province. That has been the case for years. For example, we [Codeta] do not pick up passengers coming to Khayelitsha in Nyanga after we have dropped off. But they [Cata] take people from Site C taxi rank, which is in Khayelitsha to Nyanga. They have been doing that for years.”

A woman whose husband is a taxi owner said the meetings and ceasefires were not helping the situation. “My husband is on the run. We don’t know where he is. They are using guerilla taxis amongst each other. That is the kind of life they are living.”  

23 July 2021: Private security is stationed outside the train station in Cape Town as the city continues to be rocked by taxi violence.

The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party’s Shaun Magmoed branch slammed the violence. “Many innocent passengers, private taxis and bus drivers have been targeted, shot at and violently attacked allegedly by Cata and Codeta members in the past two weeks with many commuters that have lost hope in the transport sector,” it said in a statement. 

“This is a total disregard and infringement of the people’s democratic right to travel in a safe and healthy manner in any mode of public transportation of their choice. Our vision of public transport is that it should all be under state control and not for profit; where it is under direct workers’ and community control, where communities are integrated and close to places of work, education and leisure; where the rights of commuters and of the transport workers are respected; where transport is organised on a rational basis and the wages and rights of all transport workers are guaranteed and not linked to making trips to meet targets of private owners. No retrenchment of any transport workers. All transport should be on a rational basis and organised to minimise the impact on the economy.”

On 24 July, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa convened a meeting with Codeta and Cata leaders in Site C in Khayelitsha. The two associations explained what had led to the situation, tabled a way forward and agreed on a ceasefire. 

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