Bodies pile up as KZN taxi war heats up
Taxi bosses are killing one another for a lucrative route in KwaZulu-Natal. The recent murders of a taxi boss and innocent victims signal a full-out war
CRACK, crack, crack. The bakkie’s windshield splintered as the bullets, fired from high-calibre firearms, thudded into the vehicle with deadly precision. By the time the shots finally stopped taxi boss Muzikayifani Ngobese would be dead, along with his daughter, his driver and two bodyguards who were in the car with him.
And that wasn’t the end of the bloodshed on the N11 near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal that October day.
Muzikayifani’s bakkie smashed into an oncoming taxi, killing the driver and five passengers, all of them school teachers on their way to work.
Days later Sibusiso Obed Nkomonde (66), the public relations officer for the Sizwe Taxi Association, was also killed, gunned down in an ambush in Newcastle .
e killings are the latest incidents in the ongoing war between the Sizwe and the Klip River Taxi Association over the lucrative Ladysmith- Johannesburg route.
This wasn’t the first time Muzikayifani (64) had been shot at. On 16 October gunmen ambushed him near his home and fired 34 shots at him. Miraculously, only one of those bullets struck him, says Joyce Ngobese, the family spokesperson.
“Muzikayifani had been receiving death threats on SMS,” she recalls. “He didn’t know the sender but those messages made it clear he’d be killed.”
ON THE morning of his murder, Muzikayifani told his wives, Sibongile and Busisiwe, there were people plotting to kill him. “We are not shocked by his death,” said Sibongile, speaking at the Matiwane Community Hall where families paid their last respects to the teachers from local primary schools who became collateral damage that violent day.
“[In October] they shot him but he survived. We knew it was just a matter of time. He knew he was going to be shot, he just didn’t know when they’d attack.”
Khethokuhle Thwala, Zandile Dlamini, Bonisile Ziqubu and Sizakele Mavimbe- la were among the 11 people who died during the attack on Muzikayifani.
The taxi boss had planned to go into hiding, according to a relative who didn’t want to be identified.
“He was going to stay with one of his children or relatives but it was too late. After the first attack he hardly left his house. But on that day [of his death] he was forced to go to town to check on his car. We’re still wondering how the murderers knew he’d be going out.”
The killers struck from their hiding place in bushes along the road, spraying Muzikayifani’s bakkie with bullets and killing all the occupants, including his daughter Nozipho Ngobese (34), his driver Buyani Gama (38) and two bodyguards.
Sibongile describes her husband as a loving man. “He treated us well and we
were never short of anything when he was around. The community will miss him too because he was always very helpful,” she says.
Joyce says the family was “deeply hurt that Muzikayifani died with innocent souls, people who had nothing to do with this. They were at the wrong place at the wrong time. We would like to send our condolences to those families.”
Taxi driver Sanele Msimango (23) and some of the teachers who died in the attack were Muzikayifani’s neighbours.
Sanele’s grieving grandfather, Amos Msimango, says Sanele hated being a taxi driver.
“He was scared of the hitmen in the taxi business but we begged him to do it [ for the money]. He agreed but insisted he’d work for one week then quit.”
Sanele’s uncle had been shot and killed in a taxi violence-related attack a week before. “We are in pain and we blame ourselves for this,” Amos says.
Khethokuhle Thwala’s fiancé, Nkosingiphile Hadebe, can’t accept her death. “I just finished paying lobola for her and we were supposed to get married early next year. This feels like a weird dream,” he says, sobbing.
“We were raising our two girls. Now that their mother is gone I don’t even know where to start. She was very close to her children and it’s going to be difficult to raise them on my own.”
Muzikayifani’s driver, Buyani, knew he was in a dangerous line of work, his brother Xolani Gama says.
“Buyani worked for the Klip River Taxi Association’s taxi violence task team as well as Ngobese’s driver. On that day he was called to pick up Ngobese from his home. We were all shocked when we received the news that they’d been killed.”
Another of the teachers who died, Bonisile Ziqubu, had her University of the Free State education paid for by the Klip River Taxi Association, her brother Vusi says.
“Bonisile didn’t have an easy life but we thank Ngobese for helping her. The taxi association funded her studies and as a result she gave us a better life,” he says.
Joyce Buthelezi, the principal of Matiwane Primary School, recalls her shock at learning her staff members had been killed.
She describes the teachers as dedicated and hardworking individuals. “I’ve lost a team and a family. As I’m standing here Grade 1 has no teacher. I’m asking the department to give us teachers,” she says .
THE Klip River Taxi Association and the Sizwe Taxi Association have been embroiled in a long, nasty fight, according to a source from the Klip River Taxi Association. “And we are also fighting among ourselves. Our fights are mainly about permits and stickers. Each taxi has to have a sticker to operate but this isn’t always the case. If you question it, then you get death threats and you’re taken off the route.”
Several taxi owners have received death threats too, the source adds.
“When you are a target they monitor you and your family. They tell you not to go anywhere and to stay with your family. They literally control you.”
Klip River Taxi Association chairman Bhekuyise Masondo, who survived a drive-by shooting in 2015, declined to talk to DRUM.
Mxolisi Kaunda, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for transport, community safety and liaison, says the two taxi associations are fighting over routes. He tried to help resolve the issues between the two groups before the attacks, he adds. “I could tell there was going to be a bloodbath and I tried to bring peace between the two associations. I told them I don’t want blood to be shed,” he says.
“The problem in the taxi industry is that there are people who don’t want it to be regulated. That must come to a stop otherwise I’ll be forced to close the routes.
“It’s the community that will suffer because there’ll be no transport, but I’ll have no choice. I’m also instructing the police to fight fire with fire – we can’t be ruled by hitmen.”
No arrests had been made at the time of going to print but Mxolisi believes this will change. “We’ll also be focusing on this area making sure the killers are brought to book.”
‘Those messages made it clear he would be killed’
ABOVE LEFT: An all-out taxi war claimed the lives of Nozipho Ngobese, the daughter of slain taxi boss Muzikayifani (ABOVE RIGHT), his driver Buyani Gama (TOP LEFT) and one of his bodyguards Sandile Msimango (LEFT).
RIGHT: School teacher Khethokuhle Thwala’s family – from left, Cynthia Thwala, Qabukile Zwane and Fraser Thwala – can’t get over her death. BELOW: Mxolisi Kaunda, KZN MEC for transport, community safety and liaison. ABOVE: School principals Justice Ngwenya (left) of Masoyi Secondary School and Joyce Buthelezi (right) of Matiwane Primary School are devastated by the loss of their colleagues.