Commuters bemoan taxi violence as they struggle to get to work

Cape Town Station Deck was mostly abandoned at 5pm on Tuesday. File photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

Daily commuting in Cape Town has never been so dangerous. Eighty people have been killed this year, casualties in a turf war between taxi associations.

Nothing is as cheap as the lives of passengers in Cape Town.

That’s the sentiment shared by a frustrated passenger as she sits in a long queue during another wet and chilly morning on the outskirts of Nyanga township outside Cape Town. This as the taxi war intensifies in the Mother City with thousands of taxi and bus passengers continuing to be left stranded everyday. 

Already having to deal with living in a gang-infested province, Cape Town communities have now been hit hard by the ongoing taxi violence which has claimed over 80 lives since the beginning of the year. At war are two of the major taxi associations, Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) and Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations (Codeta), over the B97 Paarl-Mbekwene route.

Very few taxis were operating from central Cape Town on Tuesday. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

During a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, Yasir Ahmed, the chief director at the provincial department of transport, explained some of the causes of the conflict. He says both associations have lost two leaders in the recent past and that created a void that has been filled by new leaders “who are younger and more aggressive and the older leaders are sidelined”.

Disgruntled drivers from both associations have started operating illegally from makeshift ranks and according to Ahmed, in the absence of effective law enforcement, these illegal bodies get ‘fined’ by the local association or police, foring them to join a motherbbody for protection. The third problem as stated by Ahmed is the poor integration of the management of traffic on Prasa properties given the fact that taxi associations and leaders view taxi ranks as their turf.

“Our taxi violence trend analysis shows that the increased levels of violence are linked to provincial taxi council elections,” said Ahmed.

Provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant General Thembekile Phathekile, told reporters that they have arrested 12 suspects from both associations and 14 firearms confiscated from taxi drivers at roadblocks have been taken for ballistic tests.

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According to Yasir Ahmed, there were only nine convictions of taxi related violence between January 2018 and July 2021. Wade Seale, the spokesperson for the MEC for community safety said that the low convictions are linked to “the lack of human resource capacity on the part of SAPS, especially in regard to detectives”.

Commuters waiting for a bus in central Cape Town on Tuesday. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

Elitsha recently went around Cape communities speaking to commuters who have been affected by the conflict. Many of them expressed their dismay at the “unprofessional” conduct of both Cata and Codeta.

“They are supposed to put us first as their clients. But these taxi bosses don’t seem to care at all about us. And, why do they always have to use guns to resolve everything? We have been living in constant fear ever since this taxi war started because nobody is safe from the bullets. These hitmen shoot randomly and they don’t care if innocent lives – including those of women and children – are affected. It’s sad. The worst part is that government doesn’t seem able to find a lasting solution to this problem,” says commuter Lumkile Sifile (43). The father of two from Philippi works as a cleaner and relies on taxis to travel to his workplace.

Since taxis stopped operating, he, like many other passengers desperate to get to work, has been catching the bus to town at Borcherds Quarry Drive near Nyanga. “We are risking our lives because we come here at the crack of dawn to catch the bus,” says Sifile.

Holding an umbrella to shield herself from the rain, a 34-year-old passenger who wanted to remain anonymous bemoaned the “thuggery” in the taxi industry. “Lawlessness is the order of the day in the taxi industry. I sometimes feel the government is also to blame for treating the industry with kid gloves. As workers we risk losing our jobs because of greedy trigger-happy men who have no regard for the rule of law,” she says.

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Having just been employed on a temporary basis in a cellphone shop in Claremont after being jobless for a while, she told Elitsha that she fears losing her job because of constant late-coming. “But I am fortunate that at least my boss understands the situation we are faced with,” she says.

Early this week, a Golden Arrow bus bound for Cape Town came under fire at the Borcherds Quarry Drive with the driver sustaining a facial gunshot wound. This forced Golden Arrow to limit its services in the hotspots, forcing the more than 100,000 commuters who use their services to seek alternative transport.

“All the incidents of attacks on our buses have been reported to SAPS and we are glad that Metro Police have increased their presence in affected areas,” said Golden Arrow Bus spokesperson, Bronwen Dyke-Beyer.

Usually abuzz with minibus taxi activities, the Cape Town station deck is deserted. Negotiations have been ongoing for days in a bid to end taxi violence in the province. Photo: Peter Luhanga/GroundUp

On Thursday July 22, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, after days of meetings with the feuding taxi associations, together with Santanco (SA National Taxi Council), said there was “light at the end of the tunnel. We appreciate the fact that no party has walked away from the negotiation table and that there is willingness among the parties to continue negotiations. We are currently affording the two associations a further opportunity to find each other and agree on how to resolve the conflict,” Mbalula said in a statement. He also sent condolences to the families of victims of the war.

Codeta spokesman, Andile Khanyi this week said their drivers will not operate until a solution has been found, while his counterpart at Cata, Mandla Hermanus, said they will also wait for a solution to be found before resuming their services.

On Friday afternoon, the Western Cape government said it had decided to close route B97 for two months as from the 26th of July.

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