Long distance coach and taxi intimidation, murders, crippling SA transport industry
The transport industry painted a bleak picture of levels of extortion that are crippling operations and putting long-distance passengers and staff at risk. Not limited to the Western Cape, it has become a national norm. Yet no arrests have been made, the Western Cape legislature was told on Friday morning.
Intercape’s attorney Jac Marais said that attacks on their buses started in 2019 and involved incidents of stoning, intimidation, assault, attempted murder and extortion.
He was delivering a presentation at a briefing called by the Standing Committee on Transport in the Western Cape Legislature on Friday, 5 August. The purpose of the session was to get a sense of the attacks on the long-distance coach industry. The Department of Public Works (DPW), Intercape, SAPS, Prasa and the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) made presentations to the committee.
The briefing follows a spate of attacks on Intercape drivers. In April 2022, driver Bangikhaya Machana was shot in the left arm and waist at an Intercape depot in Cape Town. The 35-year-old father of two young children died of his injuries three days later.
In the most recent attacks, two Intercape buses came under fire on Wednesday, 3 August. This was days after a driver was shot and wounded outside the company’s depot in the Airport Industry.
Marais’ presentation focused on incidents occurring in both the Western Cape and especially the Eastern Cape. Summarising the incident, Marais highlighted:
- A total of 150 incidents occurred since the start of 2021, and 80 incidents since the start of 2022. During 2022, Intercape faced an incident of violence or intimidation almost daily – 29 stoning incidents and 19 shooting incidents.
- So far this year there have been 92 incidents of intimidation against Intercape, including threatening of staff and forcing passengers off coaches at gunpoint or under threat of violence.
- One driver was assaulted. In May, a taxi operator threatened to shoot passengers.
- Four drivers have been shot and wounded, one fatally.
- Attacks are becoming more violent, sophisticated and organised, with increased use of vehicles in attacks. In the 30 June attack, perpetrators used a Hilux bakkie.
- Possible leaks in SAPS. Police usually escort buses, but on 4, 5 and 26 June, attacks occurred when SAPS could not escort buses. Taxi operators knew and planned accordingly.
- The majority of incidents have taken place in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng.
- A total of 126 cases have been opened with SAPS. They include 61 cases of intimidation directed at Intercape coaches, and 14 of intimidation at Intercape offices/depots.
No arrests to date
Marais also informed the committee: “Despite evidence, which includes photographs and video footage, which in some cases identify attackers and vehicles used in the attacks, being handed to SAPS, to date, not a single arrest has been made.”
Since 2020, Intercape has had several meetings with taxi associations and bus companies in Cape Town, as well as East London, to no avail. The committee heard that demands made by Eastern Cape taxis on 28 March include:
- Increase prices immediately.
- R1,000 per ticket by the end of 2022.
- All departures before 12:00.
- No price fluctuations based on demand.
- No more operations out of Dutywa, Butterworth, Ncgobo, Tsomo, Covimvaba, Gcuba and Nqamakwe.
“Following the 27 May strike in Dutywa by taxis, a phone discussion took place with Eastern Cape Transport MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxotiwe, who said she met taxi operators and required our CEO Johann Ferreira to attend a meeting with the taxi reps to reach an agreement on Intercape’s operations, including its routes and fares.
“Following engagement with the Eastern Cape Transport MEC, Intercape can now only operate out of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape,” Marais said.
One immediate step to stop attacks at Intercape depots that he suggested, is to place practical steps on the way forward, including cameras on the bridge near Intercape depots, and investigating as crimes under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
Current legal proceedings instituted by Intercape include an application against the MEC and Minister of Transport, Daylin Mitchell and Fikile Mbalula, seeking an order that the MEC and Minister should have an obligation to take positive steps to put in place measures to ensure the safety of long-distance bus drivers and passengers in the Eastern Cape.
Authorities failing to safeguard
Ferreira, in his short brief, said the attacks and murders of drivers should be placed in front of those in authority who failed to safeguard drivers and passengers.
“What the taxi industry is doing in the Eastern Cape is cleansing the province of buses. I want this matter to be ventilated at the National Assembly.”
Ferreira also pointed out that Intercape is a private company operating legally with all the necessary permits, but still they have been subjected to “a concerted campaign of violence at the hand of rogue taxi associations” who are intent on “forcing coach operators out of certain regions and from key routes”.
“They are doing this at the end of a barrel of a gun, and authorities have done nothing to stop these attacks and prevent bloodshed. Instead, there have been attempts to intimidate and persuade us to be party to agreements around pricing structures and routes, which amounts to price-fixing. This is a serious criminal offence and Intercape refuses to participate in such acts,” Ferreira added.
Attacks on mourners
Yasir Ahmed, Chief Director of Transport Regulation, Transport and Public Works, made an alarming remark. He said that apart from attacks on buses, threats and attacks on funeral undertakers transporting mourners are taking place.
“Attacks on private vehicles with families travelling to neighbouring provinces also occur. Extortion, attacks and hijacking of legal charters, scholars and staff transporters happens, and vehicles are released only on payment fees or fines,” Ahmed said.
He explained that incidents involving Golden Arrow Bus Services indicate that the nature of crime incidents are ever-changing and adapting.
Ahmed also echoed the sentiment of Marais that pressure should be applied on bus companies to reduce the number of buses operating and to cease operating from towns in the Eastern Cape.
This, Ahmed said, is done by flooding ranks and routes with illegal operators, and forcing bus companies to increase fares to bring them in line with taxi fares, which Ahmed said is price-fixing.
Interventions by the department and coordination with stakeholders including SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority, City of Cape Town and DPW, include preparing an “Extortion Standing Operation Procedure” that will focus on the transport sector.
Western Cape Police Commissioner Thembisile Patekile described the crimes reported on the attacks of buses, taxis and trains, including murder, attempted murder, malicious damage to property, hijacking of vehicles with the intent to extort the driver, and demanding R1,500 as penalties to non-permit holders and extortion.
“A total of 233 cases were reported between April 2021 and March 2022, which include 26 buses (three Intercape, 23 Golden Arrow), one train and 206 taxis. Of that total, 124 are under investigation, 39 have gone to court, seven are withdrawn and three convicted,” Patekile said.
Furthermore, between April – August 2022, a total of 38 incidents include 10 buses, six Intercape, three Golden Arrow, one Mavumba, two trains and 26 taxis.
In the taxi intimidation Western Cape Standing Committee summary, Judge Dumisa Ntsebeza, chairperson of the commission, commented on taxi violence in the Western Cape, saying:
- The culture of fear and terror among drivers, operators and commuters perpetuates the culture of silence among people who witness violence. Consequently no one was prepared to give evidence that would lead to the arrest and conviction of criminal elements in the industry.
- The taxi association mother bodies operate like modern-day mafia, with the power to extort money from operators, and ability to kill people who disagree with them and threaten their interests.
- There are strong indications of a link with gangs. These gangs reportedly extort money from operators and drivers alike.
Santaco’s Western Cape chairperson Mandla Hermanus told the committee that he was surprised to hear about meetings stakeholders had with the taxi associations.
“If Santaco were informed about the meetings, we would have liaised with our representatives in the Eastern Cape. Not all taxi operators are involved in the alleged attacks on buses or taxis,” he said.
The door is still open and Hermanus believes that Santaco can still play a meaningful role to stem the tide of attacks. DM