The taxi industry by far transports the biggest number of passengers on any given day, compared to both rail and bus. However, with taxi owners and drivers fighting over routes, the industry is marred by violence that in the conflict between two rival taxi associations in Cape Town, 13 people have been killed.
Despite a pause in the bloody war between taxi associations in Cape Town’s townships, the Congress for Democratic Taxi Associations (Codeta) and Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata), passengers say they continue to live in fear as they don’t know when the “unpredictable” taxi associations will attack each other again. Thirteen people have already been gunned down.
Fears about violence erupting again were fanned by reports that Codeta had told commuters not to use the bus services on Friday as they have not reached an agreement with the City of Cape Town with regards to a MyCiti bus contract which involves the association, Golden Arrow Bus Services and Mitchell’s Plain Taxi Association.
Violence between the rival taxi associations has been well reported in the media over the past years and disputes over routes have always been the root of the problem.
The latest violence started after a stand-off between Cata and Codeta over the Delft and Wynberg routes and the fighting soon spread to the Nyanga, Lower Crossroads and Khayelitsha routes as well.
And, just like in any taxi war, the old saying, “When two bulls fight it is often the grass that suffers” rings true for the thousands of taxi passengers who have borne the brunt of the violence.
Elitsha spoke to a number of passengers at various affected taxi ranks who expressed their disgust at the violence.
As soon as news of the deadly taxi war spread, scores of passengers were forced to resort to other means of transport as they feared being caught in the crossfire.
On a visit to the busy Site C taxi rank, Elitsha witnessed a number of taxi passengers making their way to the nearby train station to catch trains to their different workplaces
“I normally use a taxi, but since this taxi violence started I no longer feel safe taking a taxi anymore. I normally catch a taxi here to Cape Town but the visuals I saw on the social networks just now of people falling victim to this taxi war have left me terrified,” said Lungile Mfihlo as he walked from Site C rank to the Nolungile Train Station.
There was pushing and shoving at the train station as soon as the train arrived, with commuters anxious to get to work on time.
One commuter, Bukelwa Voyi said despite the inconvenience she suffers daily due to trains delays, the train is the safer option for her to get to work.
“Buses are also being targeted and we have heard of a number of buses being either torched or stoned. I would rather endure the delays in a train than to risk my life in a bus. This is affecting us badly because our employers are losing patience and we face being fired from our jobs. Why can’t they resolve whatever issues they have peacefully instead of resorting to violence?” asked Bukelwa as she stood in the freezing cold patiently waiting for the train.
Many passengers said they were relying on lift clubs to make their way home from work as they felt unsafe in the afternoon.
“Taking a taxi nowadays, especially in the evening, is suicidal. Until this violence is over I will not feel safe inside a taxi at all. I am relying on a lift club in order to get home,” said Weziwe Buka.
Meanwhile both Codeta and Cata say they are happy that a peace deal had been reached.
Speaking to Elitsha, Cata spkesman Andile Seyamo, said they had managed to come to the table and resolve their disputes and that “we are happy to be smoking the peace pipe.”
“We had some discussions as associations and indeed we both agree that these senseless killings should come to an end. We are grateful for the support and prayers we have been receiving from members of the public in general and various formations,” said Seyamo.
His sentiments were echoed by Codeta spokesman, Monde Ndungane.
“Violence is never the answer to resolve any dispute. It is very unfortunate and regrettable that blood had to be spilled in this manner. Our condolences go to the families of the 13 breadwinners who lost their lives as a result of this violence. We will be sitting down with our members to preach the message of peace. We would like to also ensure our passengers that their safety will be guaranteed,” said Ndungane.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, Francois Beukman said in a statement that there was a need for the South African Police Services (SAPS) to deploy more specialised units to avoid further violence.
Beukman said that the police have the responsibility to ensure that no more lives are lost and that perpetrators of the latest violence are brought to book.
However, despite the peace deal, some angry passengers say there is no guarantee that the taxi war might not rear it’s ugly head again in the near future and have called on the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to ensure that police continuously monitor taxi ranks and all routes.
“These people are trigger-happy and are unpredictable. It’s as if they wake up one day and decide to ambush each other. The sad part is that they forget that innocent breadwinners are the ones who end up falling victims,” said taxi passenger Luzuko Mazotshana.
A taxi driver, speaking to Elitsha on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said he always feared for his life whenever he was behind the wheel of a taxi “but there is nothing I can do because I have a family to feed.”
The father of four, who has been a taxi driver for the past 10 years, said as much as he was scared for his life daily, he couldn’t quit as he had no hope of finding another job.
“If you say you are too scared to go out there and work, the owner will simply find another driver and fire you on the spot. All they are interested in is making money and don’t care about our safety,” he said.