Rather be a celeb than a crime fighter

Business Day - - IN-DEPTH - Ni­cole John­ston John­ston is a Twit­ter de­bater @Ni­coleJohn­ston.

It has been a week since the streets of Sand­ton were il­lu­mi­nated by blaz­ing cars in the at­tacks by driv­ers of me­tered taxis on driv­ers for ride-hail­ing apps Uber and Tax­ify.

What ac­tion has Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula taken to en­sure the ar­rest of crim­i­nals who burn peo­ple alive in their cars? His news con­fer­ence af­ter the death of Lin­de­lani Mashau, whose car was set alight by me­tered-taxi op­er­a­tors, was deeply dis­re­spect­ful. Although a man had been burned alive in the streets, Mbalula talked about his favourite topic — celebri­ties — as he joked that Uber was great for strug­gling celebs who couldn’t af­ford fancy cars.

It seems the man who of­ten uses the scat­o­log­i­cal hash­tag “wanya tsotsi” is in­ca­pable of get­ting his po­lice of­fi­cers to ar­rest any taxi tsot­sis, even when they pull pas­sen­gers out of cars and beat Uber driv­ers in plain sight of the po­lice.

How many more driv­ers must be petrol-bombed, burned with acid or shot be­fore the min­is­ter de­cides to use his (mostly imag­i­nary) crime­fight­ing su­per­pow­ers?

His im­po­tence is baf­fling: af­ter his huge poke in the eye by Zim­babwe’s first lady Grace Mu­gabe, tak­ing on taxi thugs could be an easy and pop­u­lar polic­ing win for a man who loves the lime­light. He could also dis­pel the pop­u­lar no­tion that many me­tered taxis be­long to po­lice of­fi­cers. So far, so ANC in 2017.

The other noted crime fighter, Jo­han­nes­burg mayor Her­man Mashaba re­sponded to re­quests for in­ter­ven­tion in Sand­ton last week by claim­ing it was not in his ju­ris­dic­tion. Are we re­ally to be­lieve he doesn’t have the power to send the metro po­lice to the rich­est square mile in Africa? Is this the same mayor who dons a Jo­han­nes­burg Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice De­part­ment uni­form for his ride-alongs to flush out so­called “il­le­gal for­eign­ers”?

Then we were treated to Trans­port Min­is­ter Joe Maswan­ganyi’s lu­di­crous at­tempt at both-siderism, say­ing if the “war” didn’t stop, all taxis would be banned in dis­puted ar­eas. We trust that he shows the same re­solve next time minibus taxi wars re­sult in pas­sen­gers be­ing killed.

“We can’t al­low a state of law­less­ness in SA, where peo­ple take the law into their own hands,” he says, avoid­ing the fact that the rea­son for the “clashes” is that the app-driv­ers are tired of be­ing at­tacked.

Men and women who are sim­ply try­ing to make an hon­est liv­ing are fac­ing as­sault, mur­der and the loss of their ve­hi­cles. For months, they have been shown that no one cares and no one will in­ter­vene. Even­tu­ally, the cost was too high and they fought back.

Pas­sen­gers are now be­ing caught in the cross­fire with sev­eral ac­counts on Twit­ter about be­ing shot at while us­ing Uber, or be­ing in­jured when pulled out of mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

On Wed­nes­day, the ten­sion boiled over in Pre­to­ria when Uber driv­ers al­legedly re­tal­i­ated by burn­ing two me­tered taxis. The tit-for-tat cy­cle is now in full swing, with re­ports of groups of me­ter taxi driv­ers around Jo­han­nes­burg’s Park Sta­tion ston­ing cars that they sus­pect be­long to Uber.

One of my favourite driv­ers is from Protea in Soweto. When we met, he had been driv­ing for a cou­ple of months and was thrilled that af­ter eight years of un­em­ploy­ment, he was able to pro­vide for his fam­ily.

Then he fell vic­tim to the com­mon ploy when ri­vals call an app-ser­vice car and then hi­jack and rob the driver. They drove him to an ATM at gun­point and emp­tied out his ac­count. When I saw him next, he said: “So what do I do now? Do I let my chil­dren starve or do I let them be or­phaned?”

We are deal­ing with the trickle-down eco­nomics of the mafia state. When an en­tire coun­try has been cap­tured and looted with­out a sin­gle ar­rest be­ing made — de­spite shed­loads of doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence — why should mi­nor hood­lums re­lin­quish whichever turf they claim as their own?

For some, it’s Sand­ton sta­tion, for oth­ers it’s a sta­te­owned en­ter­prise. Same same, but not dif­fer­ent.

Fik­ile Mbalula

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