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

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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.

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