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Intercape attacks — the ‘murderous’ taxi boss at the centre of the long-distance bus extortion saga

Intercape attacks — the ‘murderous’ taxi boss at the centre of the long-distance bus extortion saga
Illustrative image: Interior of an Intercape bus in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Flickr / Danny Foster) | Intercape Sleepliner Bus. (Photo: Flickr / Danny Foster) | Cape Town taxi boss Bonke Makalala, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Samane Junior Marks)

Police appeared to have discounted evidence suggesting taxi strongman Bonke Makalala was a key player in attempts to strong-arm commercial bus operators. Now he has emerged as an alleged killer.

AmaBhungane can reveal that notorious Eastern Cape taxi boss Bonke Makalala — currently facing a string of charges in the Western Cape, including murder, attempted murder and impersonating a police officer — played a key role in attempts by taxi formations to force long-distance bus operators to stop competing with minibus taxis.

This throws new light on claims made under oath by SAPS provincial commanders and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) that they could find no evidence that repeated attacks on Intercape buses were part of an organised crime campaign to intimidate Intercape and other bus operators.

This despite Intercape previously putting up evidence showing that it was Makalala who formally presented the taxi bosses’ demands at a meeting with bus operators in March 2022, pushing them to raise their prices and deliver other concessions in order to ‘normalise’ the situation and bring the violence and intimidation to an end.

AmaBhungane has previously reported on how the Eastern Cape high court skewered police over their failure to investigate attacks on Intercape buses as organised crime.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Court orders SAPS to investigate ‘organised crime’ attacks on Intercape buses

The court ordered the police to conduct a proper investigation, overseen by the court and the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigating Directorate (ID).

Instead of latching on to the evidence provided by Intercape — including on Makalala’s role — both the SAPS and NPA have opted to appeal the ruling. (Watch our video on the case here.)

Perhaps it was not clear to the police and NPA just who Makalala was. That excuse is no longer tenable, if it ever was.

In the past months, Makalala has been in and out of three Western Cape magistrates’ courts (Wynberg, Blue Downs and Simon’s Town) on separate charges of impersonating a police officer, murder, two attempted murders and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.

Makalala, who hails from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, was arrested in Pretoria in December last year on alleged crimes dating back to 2018 and 2019, and is currently in custody pending the outcome of a bail application amid allegations he attempted to bribe prison officials while in custody in Malmesbury.

Makalala faces one count of the murder of a man in Nyanga on 13 December 2019, and the attempted murder of a woman and a child. He also faces charges of illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition that date back to 2018, as well as similar charges flowing from the recovery of a pistol and ammunition during his arrest in Pretoria.

He has proclaimed his innocence on all counts.

Makalala’s role

Makalala also features prominently in the series of cases brought by Intercape to try to stop the attacks on buses, and the harassment of their staff and passengers.

According to the court papers, on 28 March 2022 Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira, alongside other long-distance bus operators, attended a meeting in East London with representatives of various taxi associations from the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata), the Cape Organisation for the Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta), Uncedo and the Gauteng Taxi Association.

Ferreira states under oath that “at this meeting, the representatives of the long-distance bus operators were brazenly informed by the taxi representatives that the only way to resolve the issues between the parties (i.e. to stop the violence) was for the long-distance bus operators to agree to certain terms and conditions … [the] meeting was led by a man named Bonke Makalala, who is affiliated with Cata”.

Ferreira alleges Makalala wrote instructions on a whiteboard detailing how the bus companies should inflate their prices.

The terms Makalala wanted long-distance bus operators to adhere to included increasing their ticket price to R1,000, limiting the number of buses per day, and indicating that bus operators may no longer stop in a number of towns in the Eastern Cape, specifically iDutywa, Butterworth, Ngcobo, Tsomo, Cofimvaba, Gcuwa and Nqamakwe.

Ferreira refused to agree to the terms set out by the taxi associations.

In his affidavit, he said a photograph of Makalala presenting the demands and other photographs taken during this meeting were provided to both the SAPS and Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, as was a recording of the meeting.

Ferreira said that in April 2022 he agreed to meet with one of those present at the East London meeting — a certain “Hamilton”, who was representing the Gauteng Taxi Association.

Makalala also joined this meeting at Menlyn Main, Pretoria, where Ferreira alleges he was told that if Intercape paid an undisclosed sum of money, the restrictions placed on them by taxi associations would be lifted. Later, at another meeting where Makalala was not present, a figure of R5-million was mentioned, claims Ferreira.

‘Strategy of violence’

Intercape refused to buckle, but owing to the violence was forced to stop operating in the towns designated “no-go zones” by the taxi bosses.

Ferreira told the court that “the criminals who are behind these attacks are profiting from their reign of terror … first, by demanding extortion payments from long-distance bus companies against the threat of ongoing violent attacks; and second, by preventing long-distance bus companies from operating in certain areas and thereby eliminating any competition for taxi associations within the long-distance transport industry”.

According to Ferreira, in Makalala’s case, the scheme went even further.

He points out that in the second half of 2022, Makalala seized the opportunity presented by the “no-go zones” to start his own long-distance bus company servicing these areas, namely Makalala Trans.

Makalala brought in his own buses to operate in hotspot areas where Intercape had halted operations.

Ferreira notes that “this appears to represent the next step in the stratagem of those behind the acts of violence; to fill the void created by their campaign of violence with their own services”.

According to the Makalala Trans web page, Makalala currently owns 17 taxis and four buses, and has 42 employees. The buses operate mainly between Cape Town and Mthatha, with the company office in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

Ferreira claims that “Makalala Trans is operating at least some of its buses without valid operating licences. Two Makalala Trans buses were impounded on 30 July 2022 and 2 December 2022. These impoundments, however, were immediately followed with what appear to be retaliatory attacks on Intercape…

“These attacks also make it clear that Makalala Trans’s strategy of violence will not only be implemented to establish itself in the market but will be used to squash any opposition and remove any competition,” Ferreira said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Police don’t know what they are doing’: Intercape asks court to order an investigation into 165 bus attacks

Ferreira notes taxi operators set up a WhatsApp chat group that included representatives of the bus companies to monitor compliance with their demands.

They also circulated details of a bank account into which the long-distance bus operators were required to make “donations” towards the travel costs of the taxi representatives.

“I suspect that this is the same account that would be used by taxi representatives to receive any payment of extortion money from bus operators,” Ferreira observed.

He argues that while it was hard to link the taxi bosses directly to the multiple incidents of violence on the ground, viewed in the broader context of demands from the taxi associations the attacks constituted elements of a “pattern of racketeering activity” under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca).

Makalala’s conduct in particular, Ferreira alleges, appears to fit the description of an offence under Poca in that he appeared to have received benefits “derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity”.

This was either directly through the protection money paid via “donations” by bus operators or indirectly through the proceeds generated by his own bus business, “which he obtained by using violence to push other operators (including Intercape) out of certain areas in order to create a monopoly for his services”.

Crackdown on ‘construction mafia’

Although Intercape is still struggling to get SAPS provincial commissioners to investigate the bus attacks as organised crime, there does appear to be increased national focus on Makalala as a significant figure in a wider criminal ecosystem.

Police said his arrest in Pretoria on 9 December 2023 came as the result of a joint operation between the Western Cape provincial detectives, Pretoria National Intervention Unit, Eastern Cape and Head Office Crime Intelligence.

In a speech on 16 February this year unveiling the latest quarterly crime statistics, Police Minister Bheki Cele also appeared to link Makalala indirectly to extortion in the Western Cape.

In a section of his speech titled “Construction Mafia”, Cele stated that “the Western Cape province has also made significant progress in dismantling and taking down those behind the 30% construction mafia grouping where projects were delayed as a result of acts of criminality. Amongst the many arrested include the kingpins which include Ralph Stanfield and his wife Nicole Johnson, and three others.”

Under the same heading, Cele went on to refer to the arrest of Makalala “for taxi violence-related activities”.

Cele did not indicate why he placed Makalala in this context, and amaBhungane has no independent information linking him to the so-called construction mafia.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA murder rate up, sexual offences decline, police crack down on construction mafias – Cele

Meanwhile, the trail of bodies emerging in Makalala’s wake has grown, even while he is behind bars.

The charge of impersonating a police officer stems from an investigation prompted by a video that emerged online showing Makalala driving a marked police van and using its built-in loudhailer.

Two Nyanga-based police officers were arrested in December for allegedly allowing Makalala to make unauthorised use of a state vehicle. Both were released on bail.

One of the two was killed in a shooting on the evening of 25 February in the Masiphumelele informal settlement on the South Peninsula. Gunmen opened fire, killing two people, including the police constable, and seriously injuring two others.

The motive for the shooting remains unclear, but there has been one unconfirmed report that the policeman was due to testify against Makalala. DM

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  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Astonishing that these tsotsis get away with gangsterism of a public good. One can only imagine why ! We need a strong-arm leadership to put these thugs away so that public transport can once again service our people. But perhaps, putting two and two together from other articles on taxi violence, the rot is at the top. That would explain why this thuggery continues.

    • Joseph Mahlangu says:

      “Beyond Reasonable doubt” proof and the Constitution are our only hurdles when fighting crime in SA.

      • Random Comment says:

        No, Joseph, those are NOT the problem, they are the hallmarks of a democracy and human rights, respectively.

        The problem is a criminal ruling party, a Parliament filled with crooks, dodgy Ministers in Cabinet, a limp-wristed President, a weak and corrupt civil service, and a society that lacks the moral fibre to vote them all out of power.

      • Tshepang Moloi says:

        It is rather vague that police has the audacity to declare that there is no compelling evidence that link Makalala to multiple crimes of violence in regard to Intercape. I mean, from the onset, what necessitate them to declare a connection of him to such crimes?! (I guess it is a million dollar question). This is a vivid omen of how police lacks investigative skills and expertise when coming to complex organised crime, I reckon it is the high time police harness their expertise through collaborative processes with either international police bodies like FBI or revamp its capacity through further intensive training programme from one of the local universities.

    • Richard Blake says:

      Theses criminals are free to roam our streets because of political connections corrupt inept police and a broken corrupt judiciary. This mondus operandi will continue until ANC cadres are removed from state, and independent institutions.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The longer lawlessness is allowed to continue without consequences, the worse these sorts of issues will become! It all started with a certain President, bending the rules to enrich himself & those connected to him never being properly challenged and convicted which set the pace for Corruption SA Inc to flourish….Now every man and his dog is having a go with impunity!

    • Really Honestly says:

      A scenario similar to Haiti is no longer an unlikely outcome for SA, especially with the likes of Zuma and his thugs becoming a new force in mainstream politics.

  • Just Me says:

    It is astounding how much criminality taxi bosses get away with in SA. Also, it is not just their attacks on the long-distance bus industry, but also on the MyCity bus operation and Metrorail operations.

    The irony is that according to world standards for large scale cities, mini-bus taxis (which are anomalous in SA) should only be permitted at the extreme periphery of cities and not in the city centres, if at all.

    Public transport within the centres of cities has to be done by vehicles that carry many people, like trams, trains and busses. Not taxis.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      “It is astounding how much criminality taxi bosses get away with in SA.”
      It is more than likely that the taxi industry, just like the construction mafia, has deep links to ANC politicians and police force. It easily explains the proliferation of their “services” and protection they are getting. Many political assassinations have their roots in the taxi industry. And all in full view of Cele and his buddies.

    • Dave Buerger Buerger says:

      You are absolutely correct Just Me. I have no doubt that the minibus taxi industry has played a major role in the crippling of commuter rail in our country.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Another Eastern Cape import we could do without down here.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    There is simply no will or ability within the SAPS and Police Intelligence to combat organised crime at any level, and I suspect it’s because there are deep links between these thugs and high ranking people in the ruling party. It’s the only explanation that makes sense. Hopefully once we have a new government, we can strip out the politically-appointed thugs from the SAPS and get professionals who tackle the taxi bosses, gang bosses, poaching and drug syndicates and construction mafias relentlessly. And I’ll repeat what I’ve long called for – anybody found with an illegal firearm faces a minimum, mandatory 20 years in prison, without the option of parole: if the weapon has been used in the commission of a crime, it’s life behind bars, no parole, no early release.

  • Martin Kunhardt says:

    Throw the man under an Intercape. Vengeance is mine and also for those whose lives have been destroyed by the greed for money at any cost

  • Francoise Phillips says:

    These tsotsis are no different to the VBS bank looters robbing poor gogos of their life long savings. The ANC and their criminal police minister are in cahoots with these criminal taxi bosses for sure. The criminal ANC and its criminally corrupted police service are in cahoots with the biggest crime bosses in the country. The ANC does not care how citizens suffer as long as their pockets and sofas are very well stuffed.

  • Nervina Kernels says:

    It’s obvious that the taxi industry, construction mafia and other criminal entities that engage in criminal activities without fear, are linked to politicians. This is the gangster state that flourished under Zuma’s 9 years. We still suffer the consequences of this dangerous man’s administration, and he wants to return to politics. I fear for the people of KZN. Should the MK party come to power in KZN, they will learn the hard way what it is to live under a violent, fascist provincial government, they will see corruption at unprecedented levels.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    A recurring theme in this criminally led country; SAPS and the NPA incapable, unwilling, unable to protect citizens from criminal thugs. The criminal mafia are popping up in virtually every corner of our economy and those responsible for protecting the lives and livelihoods of citizens, DO NOTHING!

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    So, while our honourable Competition Commissioners indulge in their fixated intellectual masturbation on the ridiculous quest to nail 28 banks for anti-competitive forex trading (good Lord), these anti-competitive taxi bullies with all their parliamentary cohorts carry on in the most despicably blatant price-fixing anti-competitive industry manipulation.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Those who have resources Rod are always difficult to bring to book but eventually it happens, if banks committed crimes they must be brought to book no crime is a better crime.
      I agree with you police must do their job but I beg to differ with you on the banks.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    What THE PEOPLE do not realise is that THEY are the ones who pay more and GET LESS in the way of services.

    Vote DA to correct the mess.

  • Tim Bester says:

    It is transformation on steroids.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    It makes fascinating reading that such criminals are allowed to operate, but then again, we don’t have much of a police force or prosecuting service.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    KZN is probably worse. How many billions were spent with those bus only lanes and bus stops in Pinetown. The project gets completed then the taxi industry shuts it down.

  • Rae Earl says:

    One of the protectors of the taxi bosses appears very much to have been Fikile Mbalula when he was Transport Minister. After years of refusing to assist the bus companies in their fight against the taxi gangs, he was eventually ordered by the Court to act againts these gangs. Nothing happened. Why? And why was Police minister Bheki Cele so silent on the subject. Makes one wonder.

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Yes indeed, Fikile Mbalula has a great deal to answer for regarding the general destruction of the transport system and infrastructure that occurred while he was Minister- the roads, rail, and bus transport, and the ever more brazen criminality, violence and corruption, have left the entire transportation system in a severe crisis. Minister Cele is also responsible for the worsening of the grip of criminally corrupt syndicates in all sectors, and the deterioration of policing though the infestation of corruption and incompetence.

  • Jeremy Hollmann says:

    At last, some concrete detail about who is ‚driving’ these attacks

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    It takes only one person with mr Ferreira’s tenacity to fight crime and so protect the constitutional rights of all South Africans to turn things around.
    If only, mr Ramaphosa, if only.

  • Andries Gouws says:

    What is described here is an attempt to establish black monopoly bus capital.

  • Craig King says:

    Having effectively removed PRASA as competition they now go after other bus operators. In the meantime we are told to buy electric cars, recycle plastics and use renewable energy. Same planet, different worlds.

  • Enver Klein says:

    This is the most concerning part of the article: “The court ordered the police to conduct a proper investigation, overseen by the court and the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigating Directorate (ID). Instead of latching on to the evidence provided by Intercape — including on Makalala’s role — both the SAPS and NPA have opted to appeal the ruling.”
    Who is behind appealing the ruling, cadres in Makalala’s pocket?

  • theresa burdett says:

    Why are these people let out on bail so easily. The issue is they just carrying on doing what they are doing. Someone is paid and there they go. Incomprehensible. Racism exists as well as Bronkhorstspruit shows so clearly where a security owner set his dog on a drunk employee with a panga. Why were they held in jail while people like this who are a danger to society go free.

  • theresa burdett says:

    We need honest and righteous government. The ANC has not improved. The speaker is a shining example of this. She should have been suspended without pay. As long as they tolerate these people things will not improve. Gigaba is still running around despite the findings of the commission. How many others. No action taken. Where is the NPA? Cut spending on parliament by doing away with car allowances, paying for water and lights, charge commercial rates for housing. No free food. If everybody can take lunch to work so can they. No blue lights or protection except for the president. SA could save an awful lot of money. Its no wonder so many are overweight. Use that money to hire a couple of really good prosecutors.

  • Norman Sander says:

    Clearly, bribery and extortion are the driving factors here. These tye of people are operating with impunity, because they are protected by members of govt, who are on the payroll.
    A shameful state of affairs. SA is already a banana republic in my view.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    People dont know what taxi outfits are involved with,its huge

  • Change is good sa says:

    Another ANC legacy. Another Beke Cele legacy. The ANC government and Beke Cele have allowed extortion of all forms to get out of control over the years and as a result, individuals like Makalala have been responsible for so many deaths. Will the NPA take into account the culpable homicides of all the passengers travelling to their destinations on Intercape buses to add to the charges. Shame on the ANC, is this their BEE legacy. Murder is okay, because Makalala is filling the gap of a vacated business instead of going about building his business legally to create healthy competition.

  • Johan Buys says:

    In all the various charges, why does prosecution not go for the easy quick seperate charge on the guns and ammunition? Yes/no they were licensed? One day in court, ship him to prison on that charge. In the right prison he will be unable to continue his enterprise. The other charges can follow.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    The taxi mafia clearly long-standing connections with the ruling party, they are allowed to demand what they want with impunity. Either they get a portion of the benefit from other transport systems (such as the Gautrain and ria via in Johannesburg) or they completely sabotage it, to remove competition and keep people dependent on taxi transport. It is an absolute scourge, and the intimidation has had a very negative effect on the recovery of long distance buses since the pandemic. Bus services used to be quite good, now they are extremely unreliable and chaotic. Park Station in Johannesburg is falling apart. The taxi mafias have spawned the mafias in the other sectors, all of them protected by corrupt police and politicians. They even intimidate people coming to collect loved ones in their private vehicles. They are seemingly untouchable.

  • Bob Fraser says:

    Bob F – March 29th 2024 at 24:15
    Is this another case of South African Police incompetence combined with South African justice, or just bribery and and corruption.

  • Bob Fraser says:

    Bob F – March 30th 2024 at 13:48
    As always an incompetent South African Police coupled with a justice system which in my view leaves a lot to be desired.

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