Western Cape police are on the hunt for the shooters in a taxi war in Cape Town this week that claimed the lives of 13 people and wounded several others, and the provincial government is threatening to shut down the ranks.
At stake are the lucrative Delft to Wynberg and Delft to Claremont routes, which pass through Mitchells Plain, Philippi, Nyanga, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu.
Police said the shooting started last Friday night in Wynberg, when a man narrowly escaped being killed at the taxi rank. Shortly afterwards, two taxi drivers were shot at the Delft taxi rank, among them the popular taxi boss and chairperson of the Delft Taxi Council, Nazeem Daniels.
Another shooting occurred in Khayelitsha, where a taxi driver was killed and a commuter wounded.
The violence spread from Gugulethu to Nyanga and Philippi, with targeted shootings and retaliations happening within hours of each other. By Monday, 13 people had been killed and three drivers and three commuters wounded.
Some of the killings happened in broad daylight on some of Cape Town’s busiest roads. In Philippi East and Nyanga, taxis filled with people were shot at.
The police made the first arrest in Gugulethu on Friday night, when two men with two unlicensed firearms were found. But a few hours later, another taxi driver was killed in Nyanga.
“It seemed like it but it’s not clear whether it was the other side that retaliated. And right now the SAPS [South African Police Service] is close to dealing with the shooters on the other side of the conflict,” Western Cape safety and security MEC JP Smith said.
The war was between taxi owners from Wynberg and Delft, represented by the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations (Codeta).
“If any taxi driver has problems, he is supposed to come to the regional office but they didn’t do that. And because of that we lost so many people,” Cata chairperson Andile Seyama said this week. “That conflict happened because of a break of communication between those two associations in terms of operations and now we have reached an agreement on how to operate peacefully.”
Codeta chairperson Besuthu Ndungane said his association would make sure more violence “is avoided at all costs”.
The SAPS, metro police and the provincial government’s taxi unit were deployed to the intersections where the shootings happened and to other hotspots. By the end of the week, police had made 10 arrests.
“We activated the neighbourhood safety teams, metro police, taxi units and the taxi task team, which is doing operations once a week. Right now, there is a daily presence of stopping and searching vehicles in the hotspots and random areas,” Smith said.
After the violence subsided, the Delft and Wynberg taxi owners attended a meeting between Cata and Codeta on Friday, mediated by the ANC chairperson in the city, Xolani Sotashe.
The associations agreed to form a 30-member committee, 15 from each side, to act as peacemakers and to patrol the routes, which would be shared.
But neither Cata nor Codeta would admit that their members were involved in the violence. Seyama blamed it on “people who take advantage of the breakdown in communication”.
The ANC intervention was a direct snub of the Democratic Alliance MEC in the province, Donald Grant, who has instead declared he plans to close certain taxi ranks.
ANC Cape Town spokesperson Khaya Yozi said: “We convened the two associations to establish the cause of the fight. But we are not politicising this matter. We have a responsibility because we are part of the community.”
This week Grant said closing down the ranks was very complicated. “This is not sommer net so.” He criticised the associations and said his threat to close the taxi ranks was a “last resort”.
“Elements of both Cata and Codeta chose the path of violence without any regard for the lives of their members, that of their rivals or of their passengers,” Grant said in a statement.
Ndungane described Grant as naive. “The transport MEC is demonstrating how he doesn’t care about the industry. His only interest is the commuters. He does not recognise the 60% contribution we make in the transport sector,” Ndungane said.
Funerals are scheduled for this weekend.