Maverick Citizen

MONDAY MAYHEM

Defence force deployed, premier vows to probe taxi violence after calm returns to Mthatha and N2

Defence force deployed, premier vows to probe taxi violence after calm returns to Mthatha and N2
A burnt-out truck that was used to block roads in Mthatha on Monday morning. (Screengrab: Supplied)

After a chaotic day in Mthatha that closed hospitals and clinics, barred students from writing exams, closed the airport and disrupted the first day of special votes, order returned to the city by late afternoon. The provincial government said the defence force had been deployed.

The N2 and the R61 were reopened by Monday afternoon as the Eastern Cape Provincial Government confirmed that the defence force had been deployed to “hot spots” such as Mthatha.

All roads in and out of Mthatha were blocked early on Monday, with WhatsApp voice notes warning residents to stay home. The blockade, organised by warring taxi organisations, was a protest that a special operation confiscating firearms late last week favoured one side over the other.

While none of the taxi associations took responsibility for the violence on Monday, it is understood that the Border Taxi Alliance was demanding their firearms back. Two taxi bosses were shot on the R396 last week and three taxi operators have been killed.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Taxi violence surge — Mthatha blocked off as gunshots heard, people warned to stay indoors

Taxi associations sent their own heavily armed security guards to hospitals in Mthatha and Maclear to look after their injured leaders, and this appeared to have triggered the special operation.

While Monday was the first day of special votes in the general elections, the IEC’s Masego Sheburi said 107 of 22,600 voting stations couldn’t operate due to the taxi strike, most in the OR Tambo area.

Premier condemns ‘anarchy’

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane vowed to get to the bottom of what caused the taxi violence in Mthatha from last week Thursday.

“As the Provincial Government, we condemn these acts of anarchy characterised by blockading of national routes leaving commuters stranded and motorists unable to get to work, with learners also unable to get to schools, disruption in healthcare services and other places of interest. 

“This action has also hampered the first day of the special votes in the areas of OR Tambo District Municipality, as the main key routes affected include the N2 and R61 in Mthatha. Unfortunately, this also interrupted activities at Mthatha Airport,” Mabuyane said. 

“Law enforcement agencies have been deployed across the province to monitor the situation and ensure the safety and security of citizens. Furthermore, we urge the provincial joint committee to tighten its oversight towards free and fair voting in the Eastern Cape,” Mabuyane said.

“The burning of trucks and the looting of goods hampers the province’s economic life. As the Provincial Government, we strongly condemn the action.”

Some of the looting of trucks stuck on the road can be seen below.

 

“As a government, we have moved swiftly to ensure we bring back the rule of law. We are investigating what has occurred in Ugie, Maclear and Mthatha since last week, which led to three taxi owners being gunned down, with some left injured and admitted to hospitals.”

“We commend the swift arrests made by SAPS and strongly send a warning to those found to be inciting violence in the province. The Provincial Government had to implement immediate action to restore peace and order in all the affected areas,” Mabuyane said.

Last week, law enforcement officers confiscated 59 firearms belonging to security personnel of some taxi bosses. These included hand weapons and assault rifles. Mabuyane said that these had been tested to check if they could be linked to previous criminal incidents.

‘Law must protect itself’

Since Monday afternoon, all the affected routes have been re-opened with law enforcement agencies deployed to monitor the situation. 

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said five suspects were arrested at around 10am on Monday in Mthatha after members of the SAPS’s public order policing unit and the visible policing unit came under fire. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Police officers come under fire in Mthatha as taxi violence spirals out of control

“Two suspects sustained injuries while the other three were arrested. Two firearms were also confiscated. A case of attempted murder and possession of firearms is opened for further investigation,” Naidu said.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said Mthatha was under siege with all entrances and exits closed, but said he was pleased that law enforcement, backed up by the defence force, could restore calm.

“I have spoken to the taxi associations,” he said, but added that he told them: “We are not negotiating with a gun against our head. But when you go to the street declaring a war. The state will have to respond.

“The law must protect itself. The job of law enforcement officers is to enforce the law, not to negotiate. Police should not negotiate with people who break the law,” he said. 

Below is a video of security forces deployed in Mthatha.

 

SAPS Provincial Commissioner Lt Gen Nomthetheleli Mene warned those sending videos and messages inciting unrest that they were on the wrong side of the law.

“We will take strict action against anyone found to be engaging in activities that threaten the safety and security of the public and the integrity of the election process,” she said. 

The blockade began early on Monday morning and by mid-morning, it resembled a war zone. See the video below taken on the streets of Mthatha.

 

The Eastern Cape Department of Transport shared the video below of the operation during which the firearms were confiscated.

It is further understood that a senior member of one of the taxi organisations was gunned down in his Toyota Fortuner vehicle. The incident happened near the Shell Ultra City in Mthatha West on the N2, and the vehicle with the injured man was found in the nearby Chris Hani informal settlement.

Mabuyane asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to send the army to stabilise the situation. 

Schools, hospitals affected

Education spokesperson Mali Mtima said the strike badly affected the sector and learners in two districts could not write their midyear exams. 

He said 73 of 104 schools had to close. This translates to 8,960 learners unable to write this morning’s examination paper.

“The schools are from Libode, Ngqeleni and Port St John’s. Furthermore, there has been no schooling in 271 primary schools in three of this district’s four Circuit Management Centres.

Due to these disruptions, about 10,877 Grade 12 learners from the OR Tambo Inland Education district couldn’t write their examinations, Mtima said.

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson MK Ndamase said health services were badly affected at hospitals in and around Mthatha.

“Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, Mthatha Regional and St Barnabas Hospital staff who worked the night shift could not go home while those who were supposed to report for duty could not get to work because of the blocked roads. 

“This has forced hospitals to operate with skeleton staff. As soon as roads reopen, those who are supposed to be on duty will go to work to relieve those who worked the night shift. 

“The blocked roads mean patients in desperate need of a higher level of care cannot get it as ambulances cannot get to Mthatha,” he said.

One of only three tertiary-level hospitals in the province is situated in Mthatha.

“In emergency cases, the department will use aeromedical services to transfer patients,” he said. DM

Gallery

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