By Tauhierah Salie
Transport MEC in the Western Cape Bonginkosi Madikizela has called an urgent meeting with taxi associations on Tuesday, following two shooting incidents believed to be linked to taxi-related feuds in Cape Town. Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast show on Tuesday, the MEC described the incidents as “deeply concerning” and said the main issue is one of ‘lawlessness’ as opposed to regulation.
It comes after at least seven people were wounded, four seriously, during a shooting at Cape Town station deck at midday on Monday. According to police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana, numerous suspects opened fire before fleeing in different directions, wounding six men and a woman in a wheelchair. A 31-year-old suspect was arrested shortly after the incident at midday, while a 39-year-old was arrested on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, police launched a manhunt for several suspects who opened fire on seven taxi occupants at the Nyanga terminus at around 8.30pm – less than 12 hours after the first incident. Four suspects were shot and killed on scene, a fifth later succumbed to his injuries in hospital, while two others were hospitalized due to serious injuries.
Madikizela said he engaged with the taxi leadership after the incident, who surmised that a war over turf is underway.
“What happened yesterday (Monday), is that the association from Langa went to the station deck and cautioned against the use of the route by CUTA (Cape United Taxi Association). Of course, we see that they then started shooting at each other.”
The MEC condemned the behaviour and emphasised that those found responsible for violence should face the full might of the law.
“We can’t have associations shooting each other when we have leadership that should be making sure that their individual associations are part of the agreement we have made. We must put the lives of our people first, that is why we are concerned. We have made a lot of progress, we have resolutions that we are implementing,” he noted.
Madikizela said that while constructive engagement is the order of the day, police, too, need to bolster efforts to deter crime.
“What needs to be done is that the individual taxi associations that are not behaving, there must be a very strong punishment. That must be done by both mother bodies and law enforcement. But we have to play our role as government and keep engaging,” he said.
“We have a responsibility as the Transport Department to make sure that we do everything we can to bring peace and makes sure the lives of the community are safe.”
“People must understand that the only people who are going to partner with government, are those who are obeying the law. People who are breaking the law are getting away with it. When there are no consequences, people think they can just do it everywhere. If police can act proper, people will be deterred from doing this.”
Mikhail Manuel, a doctoral researcher in transport studies at UCT, believes that the incident may have been branded as taxi violence prematurely; due to the public’s disposition that “taxi drivers are violent and reckless.”
“As an academic, I am at pains to get the idea across that the taxi industry is an incredible, free market economy where there are businesses and entrepreneurs that are trying to make it work. That is often the reason why there is violence in the City and many parts of the country,” he explained.
“When you have an industry that is so big and grew so rapidly in the 80’s and 90’s to early 2000, and you don’t have adequate regulation or practices to ensure safety of it …if government doesn’t protect that intellectual property in a particular way then the rational way is to try and protect it yourself,” explained Manuel.
“The industry has been violent throughout history in that regard. It’s a free market economy and it really is where the strongest man wins, or in this case the strongest man uses violence, unfortunately,” he continued.
Manuel believes that police cannot solely be held responsible for the regulation of an estimated 9k individual operators.
“We have to go back to 1985 when the industry was de-regulated by the then-apartheid government. What happened was that it was only lawful to operate a four-seater sedan vehicle as a taxi service. They then had some commissions and outcome was to de-regulate and to allow 16-seater vehicles to operate- but with almost no conditions,” he elaborated.
“The commissions that were put in place were not enforced at all. What you had then, was that absolutely anyone who could operate a taxi of that size, could then come onto a road,” said Manuel.
Manuel further pointed to grid-like road layout making it difficult for officers to identify routes. he added that operators’ practices in Cape Town, such as paying fellow operators to transport commuters on their behalf to avoid roadblocks, further hamper regulation efforts.
While Manuel remained hopeful that the government has good intentions with resolutions set out at last month’s Taxi Lekgotla, he expressed concerned that the top structures have not considered the ‘complexities’ thereof. He does not believe that the proposed taxi subsidy is a solution.
“For example, how does national government create a contractional agreement with over 140k different operators? How? They can’t even do it with city bus contractors because the contracts haven’t been reviewed after 2013, they’re just being renewed every time. The bus operators run an ever-increasing smaller profit margin because they want to provide a decent service in response to an ever-growing demand due to the failing rail system.”
Manuel had however expressed confidence in the ‘Blue Dot’ system, also highlighted by Madikizela, which makes use of technology in an innovative way to improve overall service.
Despite its bad reputation, Manuel urged the public to continue to make use of taxis, adding that he is excited to its development in future.
“I was in the car the other day and one of my close friends said: ‘my mother would flip if she found out I was taking a taxi’. The violence is present, it is a reality that we need to be aware of. But, by and large, taxi operators – or the drivers and their gaatjies- are really nice, ordinary people who will go out of their way to provide you with a good service.”