MEC set to stop taxis

2008-09-08 00:00

Following the killing of a prominent taxi boss in Mpumalanga township near Hammarsdale, Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Cele is expected to shut down the taxi operation for good, as he has promised.

Maxwell Cele was gunned down in the area on Saturday at about 2 pm. There are suspicions that his death is linked to an ongoing taxi feud that has claimed at least 10 lives since the beginning of the year.

His killing came shortly after Bheki Cele gave a final warning to the warring taxi operators, under the divided Mpumalanga Taxi Association, to restore peace or face losing their lucrative business for good. He gave the ultimatum during the signing of a peace agreement at the local Elangeni FET College on August 7.

“The next time you fight I will not suspend your operation, but I will close it down for good,” the MEC warned the taxi operators, to the applause of community members.

When contacted yesterday, his spokeswoman, Nonkululeko Mbatha, said that as soon as police bring forward evidence that links Maxwell Cele’s death to the taxi violence, the MEC will not hesitate to shut down the operation.

“The minister meant what he told the taxi operators during the peace agreement, and as soon as police give him the proof that Maxwell’s death has to do with taxi violence, he will keep his promise,” said Mbatha.

Maxwell Cele is the second person to be assassinated in the area since the peace agreement was signed. His close associate, Bongani Ngcobo (40), was shot several times with an AK47 next to his house on August 18, in another killing believed to be connected to the taxi dispute.

Hloni Ngubane, another associate of Maxwell Cele, said only if the MEC closes the taxi operation in the area will the situation improve, although that will affect innocent taxi operators and commuters. “Closing down taxi operation will be a solution, but with consequences,” said Ngubane.

Mbatha said the peace agreement stipulated that both parties must meet regularly to discuss their differences. However, Ngubane said the meeting at which the agreement was signed was the last between the two parties.

“The situation is getting worse and I’m concerned that it might soon escalate into [widespread] violence. After the [peace] meeting there was no other meeting, especially the chairman [Mbhekeni Hlophe] was opposed to meeting us … ,” said Ngubane.

Hlophe said Maxwell Cele and his associates breached the peace agreement the following morning.

“We signed the peace agreement on a Thursday afternoon and on Friday morning [Maxwell] Cele and his people were at the taxi rank demanding R100 from taxis, and blocking those who refused to pay from operating.”

He added that he is against the closure of the operation.

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