South Africa

INNER-CITY STANDOFF

Stun grenades, tear gas and gridlock hit Cape Town in taxi clash with officials

Stun grenades, tear gas and gridlock hit Cape Town in taxi clash with officials
Taxis block traffic in central Cape Town during a clash between taxi operators and law enforcement on 1 August 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

The SAPS Public Order Policing unit was called in to assist City of Cape Town traffic officials in a standoff with taxi operators, which led to the firing of rubber bullets and stun grenades on Tuesday afternoon.

Cape Town taxi operators clashed with City of Cape Town traffic officials and other law enforcement officers on Tuesday afternoon, leaving thousands of commuters stranded for hours.

The SA Police Service’s Public Order Policing (POP) unit had to be called in to assist City of Cape Town traffic officials in the standoff, which led to the firing of rubber bullets and stun grenades.

cape town taxi clash

Peak-hour traffic is halted in Cape Town during a clash between taxi operators and law enforcement officials on Tuesday, 1 August 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

According to city mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith, traffic officers conducted operations in the CBD, which resulted in 15 taxis being impounded.

“Taxi drivers assembled on the rank and assaulted one of the traffic officers,” Smith said.

“The scene grew tense as several taxis took to blockading the exit route in the rank. In the stand-off, SAPS Public Order Policing [members were] deployed to the scene and pleaded for the return of order.”

Smith said that taxis trying to enter the rank for the afternoon peak period were prevented from entering by fellow drivers and this caused widespread congestion.

“A group of opportunistic drivers intent on causing chaos attempted to incite the crowds and numerous drivers left their vehicles on the road, causing a gridlock and adding to the frustration.”

Frustrated commuters had to wait for hours as no taxis were going in or out of the rank because of the stand-off. Several drivers were arrested. 

‘Live ammunition fired’

The City of Cape Town accused the taxi operators of firing live ammunition at the officials, but did not say whether this caused any injuries.

Tensions between the City of Cape Town and taxi operators have been simmering over a new by-law that gives power to the municipality to impound vehicles rather than fining drivers for offences such as not displaying registration plates, being unlicensed, overloading and the failure to stop when instructed to do so by an officer.

cape town taxi clash

The city was tense as several taxis were impounded on Tuesday, 1 August 2023, with motorists experiencing gridlock. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

Under the National Road Traffic Act, licensed drivers who aren’t carrying their licences are simply issued a fine and allowed to continue driving. However, under the traffic by-law, the city will still issue unlicensed drivers with a fine — but will also impound the vehicle.

Taxi operator Lulamile Nkumanda told Daily Maverick they had not used live ammunition on Tuesday and were protesting against “harsh by-laws”. 

“We were there to express our feelings regarding them interfering with the way we operate,” he said.

“It is now clear to us that they’re against this black-owned business by enforcing harsher laws and holding traffic stops right in front of the taxi rank.”

He said the taxi industry accepted that officers would check drivers’ licences, operating permits and whether taxis were overloaded, but the issues began when taxis were scanned to check for active fines and drivers were issued with warrants during rush hour.

“We refused to bring in our vehicles as we did not want to cause any havoc and also minimise the chance of a traffic jam. We were later called to resume operations, but upon arrival, we were boxed in and arrested. We were also fired [on] with tear gas and rubber bullets, which caused a stir.”

Commuter Nozuko Bangani said their lives were put at risk by the officials and the operators.

“These law enforcement officers will not be in Nyanga, Khayelitsha and Philippi where we will face possible rape and robberies because we will arrive at home late. No one cares about us and we cannot even fight this, we just have to endure it. It is unfair.” 

Nceba Enge, South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) spokesperson in the Western Cape, said he wouldn’t comment before a meeting with the city on Thursday. The meeting is expected to resolve whether the taxi industry holds a stayaway to protest against the by-laws.

Enge did, however, confirm that taxis would continue operating on Wednesday.

Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for urban mobility, Rob Quintas, said the city noted Santaco’s possible stayaway later this week or early next week. He urged industry members to refrain from violence, attacks on other public transport operators, intimidation and traffic disruptions.

“We know from hard-learned experience that strike action is often marked by intimidation of non-striking public transport operators, threats, violence and destruction of public and private property. We respect the right to peaceful protest and strike action; however, I want to make it very clear that the city will not tolerate any thuggish behaviour.”

Quintas promised to hold Santaco accountable for any losses and damages.

Santaco withdraws from task team

Santaco has resolved to suspend its participation in the Minibus Taxi Task Team, citing two reasons: the “increase and continuous impoundments of vehicles” and “lack of progress on issues tabled”.

The task team — comprising representatives from the Western Cape government (WCG) and the City of Cape Town, with taxi industry leadership — was set up to find common ground between the parties. 

“The city and the WCG sent a joint letter to Santaco with proposals to address some of their concerns, among which [are] the impoundment of vehicles that are operating illegally, without operating licences or contrary to their licence conditions,” Quintas said.

“I urge Santaco to return to the negotiations so that we can resolve these issues in a peaceful manner, in the interest of all operators, the industry in general, those employed by the industry, and most importantly, the thousands of commuters who rely on minibus-taxis to get to and from work.” DM

Update on Wednesday at 9am: The situation was calm, with minibus taxis operating as usual and no reported incidents. A number of traffic officers, law enforcement and Public Order Police were keeping an eye on the roads.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    What a brilliant by-law. I do hope the city has the cojones to persist with it. I also hope it catches vehicles driving without number plates in its lovely net.

    Go city!

    • Ashley Stone says:

      Law applies to all. It is not a us and them law. It is the law. As motorists we need to comply so why won’t the taxi industry?

      • Jane Crankshaw says:

        Absolutely agree Ashley – gangster behaviour has been allowed to profligate to such an extent, thanks to the examples set by this country’s leadership …it’s almost become normal to break the law! Time to clean up SA’s act – well done City of Cpt!

  • Soil Merchant says:

    It is sad that the commuters are left standing because the taxi cartels have made sure that there’s no other transport service to take, but the law is somehow to blame for it .

  • Steven D says:

    Here’s the really simple question that no taxi operator or SANTACO spokesperson will ever answer: what is SO difficult about keeping your taxis roadworthy and not breaking the law?

    If the vehicles are roadworthy and their operators, there won’t be any need to impound the vehicles. WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR THEM TO COMPREHEND THIS!?

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      They understand perfectly well I’m sure – they just think they can bully their way out of spending money.

      The reality though is this:
      Every minute they sit blockading traffic is a minute that they lose income so if the city sticks to its guns they will have to ultimately run out of steam.

      I know it is hell for commuters and businesses but this issue is about rule of law and also about lives – possibly of someone you love – so it is really worth fighting for.

  • Greg Barker says:

    so let me get this straight – i think it is safe to assume that the % of fines paid by taxi operators = 0. therefore it is quite understandable that historical offences are checked and vehicles are impounded to avoid complete traffic anarchy from the taxis. yet the taxi operators are incensed that they actually have to comply with basic laws like having licences… great initiative from the city of cape town and i hope they have the courage to see this through and not be bullied by these taxi thugs.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Its about time the Taxi industry was more regulated. They are a law unto themselves and continually break all traffic laws. I do understand their need to serve their customers but i should not be to the detriment of others. It would be an interesting and i feel a frightening statistic if one took the ratio of taxi accidents to the number of registered taxis and compare it to the ratio of other motor vehicle accidents to the number of registered motor vehicles

  • William Dryden says:

    It was about time they impounded Taxi’s for disobeying the law, They the taxi owners/drivers think they are a law unto themselves and need to be brought down to earth. As for the racist comment that the law was going after Taxi’s because its a black owned business should be treated with the contempt it deserves. Also when are these guys going to be taxed like every other taxi industry throughout the world, they make a fortune of cash money, then plead poverty.

  • Louise Wilkins says:

    Where is the logic? They get angry because there are consequences to vehicles operating illegally, no operating licences or contrary to their licence conditions. Then they call it racist AND block the roads. Oh please! How can you respect someone like that?

  • Gregory Scott says:

    A stand has to be made against lawlessness. Clearly, the taxi industry does not take heed of the law and considers itself and the way it operates as being beyond the law.
    Really! So let me get this right: The law of the land creates an environment for employment that requires the majority of working people to be transported by the taxi industry for a fee, with the taxi industry believing that the law must not hinder or interfere with the operation of the taxi industry. Huh!
    Sounds like the making of a Mogadishu environment where the rule of law is by warlords with the ordinary citizens being pawns in the game…..

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Bulldozers. Thirty minutes to move the taxis illegally blocking the flow of traffic. No? The government will do what it has to re-establish flow & access of taxpayers. (Of course, this is a pipe dream … only insofar as how to have the dozers in place¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    Interesting that they protest against the by-law but don’t undertake to comply with the law that would negate the need to apply the by-law.

    In other words they’re protesting against application of law and the consequences of non compliance.

    Compliance is never considered

  • John Smythe says:

    Now the next bunch to tackle are the courier van drivers. I see the latest trick is to remove licence plates. Hopefully that new bylaw take some of those maniacs off the street.

  • Terence Dowdall says:

    Perhaps, if necessary in the face of attacks on other forms of transport and road-blocking, taxi vehicles could be temporarily commandeered by law-enforcement and/or the military, and operated by them until an arrangement is reached, so that commuters can get to and from work. In the same way that ambulances are sometimes driven by the military in the face of strike action. The taxi owners and their minions are probably unlikely to burn their own vehicles.

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