Maverick Citizen

TAXI WARS

Two men criminally charged for trying to violently force the closure of Mthatha Airport

Two men criminally charged for trying to violently force the closure of Mthatha Airport
Scenes from Mthatha, where a violent taxi strike blocked the N2 and R61 roads, 27 May 2024. (Screengrabs: Supplied)

Two men who were part of a group trying to forcefully close the Mthatha Airport during last week’s violent taxi strike appeared in court on Monday. They were charged with attempted murder and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

Two men, who were arrested after a gunfight with police who stopped them from taking over the Mthatha Airport, appeared in the local magistrates’ court on Monday, 3 June.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Luxolo Tyali said the full indictment against the men had not yet been finalised.

The men, Sandile Zulu (32) and Silindile Phuke (24), both from Chris Hani in Mthatha, have been provisionally charged with attempted murder and the illegal possession of 9mm firearms and 15 rounds of ammunition. 

Two other suspects who were injured during the shootout with the police, Sibonelo Ziqubu and Silindokuhle Phike, are still in hospital in Mthatha. A letter from the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital attached to the charge sheet confirms that they have sustained “gunshot injuries”.

The men are in custody. Tyali said the two suspects who appeared in court were applying for bail.

Eastern Cape Department of Transport spokesperson Unathi Binqose said on 27 May that a group of five balaclava-clad gunmen stormed the airport and threatened to burn it down, ordering its immediate closure.

Police reinforcements were sent to bring the situation under control, but the men opened fire on the officers.

Colonel Priscilla Naidu said at the time that the suspects were arrested at 10am on 27 May after shots were fired at officers. She confirmed that two of the suspects were shot and two firearms were confiscated.

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

The attack on the airport was part of the violent closure of the N2 that runs through Mthatha, bringing hundreds of trucks and vehicles to a standstill for hours. Trucks were also hijacked, looted and burned during the taxi blockade. 

The protest was triggered by a special police operation during which around 60 firearms were seized, mostly from the security guards for one of the rival taxi organisations in Mthatha. This was in response to complaints from hospitals in the region that heavily armed men were sent to protect injured taxi bosses in the hospital. Hospitals are gun-free zones.

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

The blockade ended after discussions between the Border Alliance Taxi Association (Bata) and the provincial and national governments. Legal firearms were returned to taxi security teams after ballistic testing. 

“What happened at the Mthatha Airport was very unfortunate. We’re pleased with how it was dealt with,” Binqose said.

“We consider it a once-off incident that doesn’t warrant a wholesale change in security. But we do have reinforcements readily available should there be a need for it,” he added.

The airport resumed operations two days later. On the same day, two men were arrested for being the alleged instigators behind the taxi strike.

Read more in Daily Maverick: More than 100 cases of Electoral Act violations reported over voting days — national police commissioner

Mthuthuzeli Sogoni (52), a member of Bata, was arrested for circulating a voice note allegedly inciting violence and mobilising people not to vote. 

The second accused is 47-year-old Ncebo Nkosi, who was arrested after he recorded a video of himself calling for taxi operators and owners to disrupt elections and embark on a violent protest.

The two men also appeared in the Mthatha Magistrates’ Court on charges of incitement to public violence, contravention of the Cybercrimes Act and the Electoral Act. They were released on R3,000 bail each and will appear again on 22 July. DM

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