Taxi deaths: driver faces murder charges

2011-10-04 00:00

TAXI driver Khululeka Gwala (22) appeared briefly in a packed Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday facing multiple counts of murder and reckless and negligent driving.

Gwala, of Mpolweni, applied for legal aid. He drove the taxi in which 15 people were killed in Copesville on Friday.

When magistrate Reard Abrahams asked Gwala why his cheek was injured, he replied: “I was involved in a car accident on Friday.”

Prosecutor Sally Singh opposed bail and asked the court to remand Gwala in custody for seven days.

Before the hearing people rushed into the courtroom to view the accused from the public gallery.

Gwala sat silently in the dock while photographers took pictures.

Gwala’s employer, Nonhlanhla Mpulu, is in hospital and is said to be traumatised by the accident.

The chairperson of Mgungundlovu Taxi Women’s League, Anna Williams, said Mpulu will receive counselling today.

The league is affiliated to the Msunduzi One Taxi Association.

Williams said some drivers were overcome with grief when they learnt about the accident.

Taxi driver Mandla Gwala (not related to the accused) said drivers are not properly trained, which leads to negligence and bad behaviour.

He said most drivers are paid weekly and denied speculation that owners demand unreasonable profits from them.

However, he added, some drivers are eager to take extra loads for themselves, which contributes to accidents.

“To mould driver behaviour we need special courses and workshops on the right attitude for the industry. The Transport Department and taxi associations must work together towards that endeavour. The courses must be compulsory and it would also help to have a probation period for drivers who have just received their licences,” said Gwala.

Driver Muzi Ngcobo agreed, saying that taxi drivers need to speak with one voice against reckless driving and disrespecting commuters.

“We behave differently, but if we can have training we can make a difference. Even conductors need training before they are employed as drivers,” he said.

Transport spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said the drivers’ concerns are valid.

The department is working on a memorandum of understanding with the SA National Taxi Association (Santaco) proposing that taxi drivers

be assessed from time to time, said Ncalane.

“Another concern is the terms of employment, which we understand is a driver-employer affair, but we need to have a database of drivers. This will make it easy to know if a driver is a ‘serial offender’. Without this database transgressors are not easily traced and brought to book.”

Ncalane said the department plans to have a meeting with Santaco before the end of this month where all these issues will be raised.

Santaco secretary-general Philip Taaibosch said the association is planning a seminar before December where 100 drivers will be invited from each province.

Taaibosch said it seems drivers don’t understand their vital role in the taxi industry, and it is high time that Santaco speaks to them directly, instead of to the owners.

He said training for drivers is important as they are the ambassadors of the industry. “Our official position is that drivers cannot continue to transgress and get away lightly. I’ve always challenged them to come forward if the owners are making ridiculous demands, but no one has come forward.”

Taaibosch said it is not easy to have a database of drivers as they change jobs frequently.

chris.ndaliso@witness.co.za

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