Commuters run for their lives as taxi war flares
Star team threatened, bullets fly, taxi torched
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.
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.