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Unlikely heroes: Taxi drivers come to the rescue of Eas...

South Africa

AGE OF ANARCHY

Unlikely heroes: Taxi drivers come to the rescue of Eastern Cape businesses

Taxi drivers parked at the Mthatha Plaza waiting for looters. (Photo: Supplied)

Taxi drivers are patrolling Eastern Cape streets to fight looters and save jobs.

Taxi drivers often get a bad rap, but on Tuesday they were hailed as heroes when they stepped in to prevent looting at several shops in East London, Lusikisiki, Gqeberha and Mthatha.

Speaking to Daily Maverick about the operation, Santaco Eastern Cape deputy chairperson Gabs Simphiwe Mtshala said that during a patrol of Kidd’s Beach in East London taxi drivers working with the police and security guards managed to stop an attempted looting at the Vincent Park Mall.

“In our operations we found out that the people who are instigating the looting are not from East London. They are travelling in cars and are paying thugs to go and loot the shops. Our community leaders are quiet about this, yet these rented people are coming from their constituencies,” he said.

Mtshala said the attempted looting, which led to the Vincent Park Mall and Hemingways Mall being temporarily closed on Tuesday, was not the only looting attempt in the province.

“There were attempted attacks in Lusikisiki and Gqeberha. Working with the police and security personnel we managed to defuse all these attempts in the province,” said Mtshala.

During the early hours of Tuesday taxi drivers in Mthatha parked their taxis at the Mthatha Plaza to guard the property.

Mtshala said they were also preparing for overnight patrols.

“We are just finalising permits in order to have our members patrolling in all the hotspots, especially malls, which are the targets of these looters,” he said.

Concerned business owner John Cupido wrote on Facebook, “I’m usually not a fan of taxis, but today I take my hat off to them for fully coming to the table to help. They have already helped save at least two shopping centres in East London and have helped SAPS barricade entrances to Buffalo City Metro (BCM) and have offered to help where they can. Tomorrow I will hoot at you when you cut me off again, but today you are my friend.”

Cupido told Daily Maverick that the rampant looting and civil unrest had had a negative impact on businesses and would have a dire knock-on effect on the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable. 

“The lockdown damaged most businesses, closed many, but this will be the nail in the coffin for many small businesses, and subsequently their staff too. Those that have incited these protests need to be held fully accountable for what they have created. They cannot wash their hands of this and claim ignorance,” he said.

Cupido said that Premier Oscar Mabuyane had sought the assistance of taxi associations to help the Eastern Cape minimise destruction. 

“And the taxi associations came through. So far, to my knowledge, they have significantly assisted in saving two East London malls from being looted and have helped the SAPS at roadblocks and much more. BCM has really come together to protect our province,” he said.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Mtshala said Santaco Eastern Cape and the taxi industry at large were not going to take part in the looting and vandalism that was sweeping South Africa. 

“We are calling on all our members and drivers instead to defend those properties and deal decisively with those disturbing our business. 

“Should we allow malls, shopping centres and businesses to be destroyed and closed, we would have no passengers to transport and therefore lose business. Our taxis would be repossessed and we will never recover from that; we lost heavily during the pandemic and we never recovered from those losses. No criminal element will be elevated in our name,” he said. 

Eastern Cape Department of Transport spokesperson Unathi Binqose said the taxi industry leaders in the Eastern Cape had put their differences aside and joined forces with the government, pledging their support to protect against vandalism and looting in the province.

“Industry leaders from Santaco, Border Alliance, Uncedo and EC Taxi Association met with Eastern Cape Premier Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane and Transport MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxotiwe and committed to work with authorities to protect businesses that provide employment to scores of people who are the lifeblood of the taxi industry,” he said.

Mabuyane hailed the commitment made by the taxi industry as a much-needed source of support to protect the province’s fragile economy.

He said any acts of vandalism similar to those in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng would be crippling for the Eastern Cape.

“Law enforcement authorities remain on high alert and the Eastern Cape remains peaceful with economic activities continuing without hindrance so far,” he said.

There were no reported incidents of attempted looting in other Eastern Province towns, while police were visible at Nonesi Mall and The Mall in Komani.

Border-Kei Chamber of Business Komani chairperson Mark Wilson held discussions with a security company and the police to prepare for any looting in Komani.

Wilson urged Komani residents to stand together against anything that would hurt the town.

“As residents, we need to keep the town safe,” he said.

Intsika Yethu Municipality Council Speaker Khanyiswa Mdleleni said fake messages sent on social media were causing panic at Cofimvaba businesses.

MEC Tikana-Gxotiwe asked people to stop sharing messages without verifying the information. 

“It is causing panic to shop owners in the BCM area and they are now closing the malls. I urge people to be calm and to stay safe during this uncertainty,” she said. DM

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