Five taxi ranks and several routes in Soweto will be shut from Thursday following ongoing violence between two rival taxi associations. But minibus taxi drivers remain sceptical over whether this will bring a lasting end to the conflict. By BHEKI C. SIMELANE.
The shutdown, which will be in place for the next month, comes after the Nancefield-Dube West Association (Nanduwe) and the Wits Taxi Association (Wata) failed to find resolutions to fights over routes, particularly those around the Rockville and Dube areas.
“The fight is about many things, but the one thing that has caused bloodshed is misunderstandings regarding the rights to some of the routes around the Rockville and Dube areas,” Mondli Qwabe, a taxi driver from Dube, said.
“Right now the industry is in trouble. Our brothers are getting killed left, right and centre. But, still we don’t see a meaningful role by our government in all this. They are just wasting our time,” Qwabe said.
“Where is it all gonna end? I have dodged death several times, I’m lucky to still be alive. Some of my brothers have not been so lucky. We are fighting a war that never ceases and are counting dead bodies,” he said.
Operational rights to the routes affected by the shutdown lie with Nanduwa according to an existing court order, but on Friday, Wata marched to the Premier’s office and demanded to operate its taxis along the Dube route.
Rival taxi drivers claim that Wata have constantly violated the court order by forcing their drivers to continue using the routes in contention.
“The reason I’m in this taxi early in the morning is because I want to put food on the table for my family. I therefore won’t tolerate anyone curtailing my moves except my boss. He is the one that helps me provide for my family. I will always protect the business from those who want to kill it because it’s my livelihood,” 39-year-old Dumisani Dlamini, a driver operating under Wata, said.
Asked if it was his boss’s instruction to continue using the route in defiance of an existing court order, Dlamini said the courts had no business in taxi warfare. He added that the government had also failed to help the taxi industry resolve its growing differences. “We are living on the edge,” he said.
Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Ismail Vadi, announced the closure by publishing regulations in the provincial gazette in line with Section 91 of National Land Transport Act earlier this week.
Section 91 of the act sets out the basis on which particular ranks and routes in an area may be closed by the MEC responsible for public transport. These include violence, unrest or instability in any sector of public transport, and where the safety of passengers has been severely compromised.
The affected ranks and routes are Mofolo Kwa-Mthethwa Informal Taxi Rank; Makhetha Stores Informal Taxi Rank; Dube Station Taxi Rank; Makhetha Garage (Phefeni) Taxi Rank; and Uncle Tom’s Taxi Rank, according to the department’s website.
According to the regulations, any person who operates a minibus taxi service at the said ranks and routes will be guilty of an offence. Where a person is convicted of contravening the regulation, a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding R25,000 may be imposed.
Announcing the closures this week, Vadi said, “We have concrete and credible evidence that the violence, unrest and instability are of such a high level to justify extraordinary measures.”
In a statement, he said there were at least 13 cases of murder, attempted murder, assault, damage to property and intimidation involving over 30 suspects that were being investigated.
Gauteng Police spokesperson Kay Makhubele confirmed that several cases relating to ongoing taxi violence in the area had been registered and were being investigated.
Vadi appealed to the members of both associations to abide by the regulations which will be enforced by members of the SAPS and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department.
Drivers who spoke to Daily Maverick are not convinced that the closure will bring an end to the conflict.
Samson Nxumalo, a 33-year-old driver from Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal, said the violence would never end because it was also about revenge.
“If a friend of ours was killed last week, it will be us attacking the killers. If their friend is killed by one of us, it will be them attacking us. That is what is happening,” he said.
Asked about the safety of taxi passengers, Nxumalo said “every war has casualties” but added that they were sorry for the families of innocent people who had lost their lives in the taxi war. “There is nothing more we can do to protect them when we ourselves are being attacked,” he said.
A driver who did not want to be named placed the blame for the conflict on government for failing to solve the problem between the two associations.
Attempts to get comment from the two associations were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, passengers who will be affected by the shutdown have been urged to make alternate arrangements.
Mumcy Hadebe, 46, who commutes between Johannesburg and Dube daily, was frustrated by the situation and the service she received from taxi operators. “Going to town costs as much as R15 but taxi drivers still treat us like dirt. They seem to forget that it’s our money that pays their salaries,” Hadebe said, adding that she would now be forced to walk a long way to catch a taxi on a different route. DM
Photo: A huge cooling tower for a power station in Soweto stands above the city on Thursday, 08 May 2003, after having been painted over months. EPA PHOTO KIM LUDBROOK