Bul­lets fly as tow truck­ers’ deadly turf war hits KZN

Sunday Times - - News Gangsterism - By JEFF WICKS

● Bloody clashes in Dur­ban’s tow-truck in­dus­try, un­der­scored by drive-by shoot­ings, have spilt onto the streets.

The push for con­trol of the city’s ac­ci­dent and re­cov­ery sec­tor has re­sulted in what po­lice sources say were or­dered killings of three tow­ing com­pany bosses.

As ten­sions sim­mer, hair stylist Fis­tos Ali­mas is count­ing the cost of be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time, tak­ing a bul­let meant for Street Kings head Ralph Gabriel. “I was stand­ing on the side of the road when I heard the gun­shots and I just started to run … then I felt that heat in my leg,” said Ali­mas.

Gabriel’s car was sur­rounded by gun­men and pep­pered with bul­lets in Berea two days be­fore Christ­mas, with a stray bul­let tear­ing into Ali­mas’s leg.

“There was blood ev­ery­where and I just kept run­ning. Later when all the men had left I went back and waited for paramedics … luck­ily the bul­let only hit my leg,” he said.

Gabriel had pre­vi­ously been in con­flict with an­other tow­ing firm and in 2016 found him­self in the Dur­ban high court, in­ter­dicted from as­sault­ing or threat­en­ing the ri­val.

In Oc­to­ber, One Stop Tow­ing own­ers Imthiyaz Khan and Megesh Naidoo were gunned down in a shoot­ing at a petrol sta­tion on Ridge Road.

They were there with their body­guards when a car pulled up and re­leased a salvo of gun­fire, leav­ing Khan and Naidoo dead and three oth­ers wounded.

In July, a ri­val tow-truck driver from KasiBoys was shot and wounded.

A source in the tow­ing in­dus­try, who spoke to the Sun­day Times on con­di­tion of anonymity, said a storm was brew­ing. “It’s go­ing to get worse, just wait for the re­tal­i­a­tion. His [Gabriel’s] killing won’t be the last and it’s go­ing to be a blood­bath,” he said.

Dur­ban’s tow­ing in­dus­try has been char­ac­terised by vi­o­lent com­pe­ti­tion for decades, with bat­tles over turf of­ten turn­ing deadly.

An­dre van der Merwe, chair of watch­dog body South African Tow­ing & Re­cov­ery As­so­ci­a­tion, said the tow­ing in­dus­try was steeped in vi­o­lence. “They vig­or­ously con­test their turf and it of­ten ends in blood­shed. This is not some­thing new,” he said.

“The tow­ing in­dus­try is a chal­leng­ing one and it’s not a game for soft fel­lows. It’s a rough and tum­ble space. I feel sorry for the pub­lic be­cause they will be caught in the mid­dle of this volatile com­pe­ti­tion.”

Po­lice and crime in­tel­li­gence sources said the killings were part of the in­dus­try.

“The tow­ing game is a murky arena to op­er­ate in and ev­ery­thing is in­ter­con­nected. We have to un­der­stand the pos­si­bil­ity that the killings are linked and who would stand to gain,” one source said.

How­ever, KwaZulu-Natal po­lice spokesper­son Capt Nqo­bile Gwala said at this stage there was no link be­tween the cases opened. He ap­pealed to peo­ple with in­for­ma­tion to call 0860-010-111.

Car ac­ci­dents are lu­cra­tive for tow-truck op­er­a­tors, who can pocket tens of thou­sands of rands for tow­ing a sin­gle car.

Some panel beat­ers sweeten the deal with a R5,000 cash gift to se­cure busi­ness, with tow-truck driv­ers some­times get­ting a per­cent­age of the over­all re­pair costs.

Fis­tos Ali­mas

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