South Africa

TAXI VIOLENCE INQUIRY

Taxi wars spiralling out of control despite efforts for peace, inquiry told

A taxi, belonging to the Sibasa Taxi Association, was burned after taxi violence broke out in the city on November 09, 2016 in Polokwane, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Joshua Sebola)

On the first day of the Commission of Inquiry into taxi violence in Gauteng, it emerged that solving the violence in the industry would take a lot more than suspending taxi operations and closing taxi ranks in affected areas. The absence of law enforcement around the taxi industry also came under sharp scrutiny.

Taxi violence in Gauteng was spiralling out of control despite efforts to contain and address it. This was the admission of Roads and Transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo, one of the first witnesses to give testimony at the first sitting of the Commission of Inquiry into Taxi Violence in Parktown, Johannesburg on Thursday.

Mamabolo has been central to trying to defuse a feud between two taxi associations in Soweto — the Nancefield Dube West Taxi Association (Nanduwe) and the Witwatersrand Taxi Association (Wata).

He said interacting with leaders of the two associations revealed just how deep and widespread the problems in the taxi industry ran.

It became clear that the problems affected many other taxi associations. The associations said the main problem was corruption in the issuing of permits and operating licences,” Mamabolo said.

Mamabolo said as his department was dealing with Nanduwe and Wata, violence broke out in other areas between other associations and this had threatened to turn the whole province into a war zone. Mamabolo said this was the reason the taxi summit was held earlier in 2019.

It was a mechanism to temporarily put the violence on hold,” said Mamabolo.

So, you are saying that the issue of Nanduwe and Wata is just a tip of the iceberg?” evidence leader Nano Matlala asked Mamabolo, to which the MEC answered: “Yes.”

Mamabolo said taxi violence was spiralling out of control despite resolutions to eradicate violence going back three years to the 2016 taxi summit.

It was clear to me that the problems run deep and required a holistic approach,” Mamabolo said.

Matlala put it to MEC Mamabolo that it seemed the problems — corruption around the issuing of permits and the free flow of guns — in the taxi industry had been identified and noted, but the issue seemed to be implementation of measures to combat this. Mamabolo agreed and said that as part of the department’s interventions, a provincial monitoring and evaluating team was put together. He said the team sat every month and results were starting to show.

Mamabolo said the team had also observed a failure of law enforcement to execute its duties, and corruption in law enforcement. He said the team had also observed that there was no co-ordination between law enforcement and the justice system.

We saw a dismal failure by law enforcement to fully apply the law by arresting and charging perpetrators,” said Mamabolo.

Mamabolo acknowledged that the closing down of affected taxi ranks was not enough:

The extraordinary measure of closing the ranks cannot resolve the issues… we need to go back and diagnose the cause of the killings.”

Mamabolo’s predecessor Ismail Vadi had closed the Soweto ranks in March 2019 after several calls to members of Nanduwe and Wata to end the violence were ignored.

Matlala asked Mamabolo what his predecessor Vadi told him the problem was in the taxi industry. Mamabolo responded that Vadi informed him that the associations were fighting over routes. Justice Jeremiah Shongwe, who presides over the inquiry, was frustrated by this response, asking:

What about the routes?”

Mamabolo responded that drivers would be issued with licences to operate in an area for which an operating licence had been issued for the driver of a rival association. He said there were also claims surrounding the legitimacy of some licences and permits to operate on particular routes.

Mamabolo said the associations acknowledged that the operating licences were the source of conflict. He said the associations therefore agreed to give the MEC three to four months to investigate the issuing of licences and make recommendations.

In recent days, seven people had been killed in taxi-related violence in Olievenhoutbosch, near Pretoria.

Mamabolo said he had met with the feuding unions in Pretoria in the past two weeks. He said the problem there was that an agreement entered into by the associations was very old and again, fights over routes was at the core of the violence.

Mamabolo said:

We have sent letters to municipalities to put on hold the issuing of operating licences. This is one issue that requires urgent attention. We felt we should not issue new operating licences when we cannot control the ones we have already issued. This effectively means that there will be no new associations because these are formed by licence holders.”

The commission will continue to hear testimony from taxi industry players on Friday. DM

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