Com­muters run for their lives as taxi war flares

Star team threat­ened, bullets fly, taxi torched

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ILANIT CH­ER­NICK ilanit.ch­er­nick@inl.co.za @Lanc_02

THE MINIBUS taxi lay at the bot­tom of an em­bank­ment, en­gulfed in fire and bil­low­ing smoke as the sound of small ex­plo­sions came from in­side.

The taxi burnt as ten­sion be­tween the Wit­wa­ter­srand African Taxi own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (Wata) and the Nance­field Dube West Taxi As­so­ci­a­tion (Nan­duwe), reached a high yes­ter­day.

Early yes­ter­day in Or­lando, taxis were dam­aged as driv­ers from the two ri­val as­so­ci­a­tions bat­tled over routes.

Shoot­ings and at­tacks took place with com­muters still in­side the ve­hi­cles.

One pas­sen­ger, who asked to re­main anony­mous, de­scribed her ter­ror as a large group at­tacked the taxi she was in.

“They had rocks and guns – we all started scream­ing when they smashed the win­dows. I ran for my life. They were shout­ing at us to get out of the taxi and threat­ened our lives. I didn’t think I’d get out alive,” she said.

The taxis lay dam­aged on the side of the road, with shat­tered glass and wind­screens strewn across the tar­mac.

At the scene, Gaut­eng po­lice spokesper­son Cap­tain Kay Makhubele said no one had been in­jured in the shoot­ing but taxis had been dam­aged.

“The vi­o­lence is be­tween Wata and Nan­duwe taxi as­so­ci­a­tions. We be­lieve it is con­nected to fight­ing over routes,” he ex­plained.

Makhubele said the po­lice had ar­rested three peo­ple in con­nec­tion with the morn­ing’s shoot­ing.

“One per­son was ar­rested for ma­li­cious dam­age to prop­erty and two oth­ers were ar­rested for pos­ses­sion of un­li­censed firearms.

“This is a hotspot and we will con­tinue to mon­i­tor the area closely,” he said.

Later in the day, a large group of Wata taxis blocked the Soweto High­way and at­tacked what was be­lieved to be a Nan­duwe taxi car­ry­ing a small group of pas­sen­gers.

Wit­nesses said the taxi had been stoned, its win­dows and doors smashed, and then it had been rolled down the em­bank­ment.

The Star team ar­rived shortly after­wards. Min­utes later, at least 100 Wata taxis re­turned and be­gan to threaten jour­nal­ists and pho­tog­ra­phers.

“We’ll stab you, shoot you and kill you – leave now! Get away from here,” one man shouted. Oth­ers joined in.

In the dis­tance, a fight was break­ing out be­tween Wata and Nan­duwe driv­ers. Threats in­creased against The Star, who left.

Fif­teen min­utes later the Nan­duwe taxi at the bot­tom of the em­bank­ment was alight.

Each of the as­so­ci­a­tions blamed the other for the vi­o­lence, each say­ing the other had started it.

“The cause of this taxi strike is the on­go­ing con­flict on Mo­folo, Dube and Phe­feni taxi routes,” said one Nan­duwe rep­re­sen­ta­tive who only iden­ti­fied him­self as Bongi.

“They were told by gov­ern­ment that they’re not al­lowed to be here and yet they keep at­tack­ing us and our pas­sen­gers.

“How many more peo­ple have to die be­fore this stops?” he asked.

How­ever, Wata spokesper­son Ge­orge Mapha­lala said Nan­duwe had at­tacked their driv­ers first – on Mon­day morn­ing – which led to yes­ter­day’s vi­o­lence.

“The peo­ple from Nan­duwe hired hit­men to at­tack our driv­ers.They were hit by stones and they (the hit­men) shot at them.

“We de­cided to stop op­er­at­ing yes­ter­day (Mon­day) af­ter­noon to find out why we were tar­geted. We need to pro­tect our pas­sen­gers,” Mapha­lala said.

MEC for Trans­port Is­mail Vadi yes­ter­day pleaded with the taxi as­so­ci­a­tions to stop the vi­o­lence.

“The dis­pute (over routes) was for­mally heard by the Pro­vin­cial Reg­u­la­tory En­tity (PRE) in terms of Sec­tion 79 of the Na­tional Land Trans­port Act. The rul­ing by PRE in­fers that Wata has ir­reg­u­larly en­croached on the routes reg­is­tered in the name of Nan­duwe,” he said.

“The De­part­ment of Roads and Trans­port ap­peals to the mem­bers of both taxi as­so­ci­a­tions to abide by the rul­ing.

“Acts of vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion, blockad­ing of roads and dis­rup­tion of nor­mal taxi ser­vices will never re­solve the mat­ter and will not re­sult in a dif­fer­ent rul­ing by the pro­vin­cial reg­u­la­tory en­tity,” Vadi em­pha­sised.

Com­pli­ment­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies for the swift ar­rests, Vadi called on the pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal law en­force­ment agen­cies to act de­ci­sively against law­less­ness, vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion by taxi op­er­a­tors in Soweto, and to en­sure the safety of com­muter­son pub­lic trans­port.

In April, three taxi own­ers from Wata were gunned down next to the U-Save Shoprite cen­tre in Mo­folo.

PIC­TURES: ITUME­LENG ENGLISH

AF­TER­MATH: A taxi driver in­spects the dam­age to his ve­hi­cle dur­ing yes­ter­day’s flare-up be­tween two ri­val taxi as­so­ci­a­tions in Soweto, in which one taxi was set alight. Three peo­ple have been ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the vi­o­lence.

SHOW OF FORCE: Pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal law en­force­ment agen­cies were brought in to act against the law­less­ness and in­tim­i­da­tion.

WATCH: Com­muters and passers-by keep a wary eye on events.

ALERT: Po­lice mon­i­tor the vi­o­lence in Soweto.

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