High-life taxi boss still in jail

2015-10-04 19:19
Guns recovered after a shoot-out at the Brook Street taxi rank in Durban. (Supplied to News24)

Guns recovered after a shoot-out at the Brook Street taxi rank in Durban. (Supplied to News24)

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Durban taxi boss Mfundo Gcaba looks aghast as he makes his way tentatively out of the dock in Court 10 towards the steps of the holding cells of the Durban Magistrates’ Court. 

It was a long week in custody for Gcaba, applicant 11 in the bail petition, which lawyer Jimmy Howse brought to try to have him and 10 others released after they were arrested after the bloody shoot-out at the city’s Brook Street taxi rank on September 16. 

Gcaba (34), a nephew of President Jacob Zuma, is the last to leave the courtroom for the cells below. 

The other accused, with applicant one, Chesterville taxi owner William Kunene, leading the way, have already made their way downstairs. Their every move is watched by members of a tactical response team section deployed in case their failure to make bail sparks a backlash from the courtroom, which is packed with fellow taxi owners, as well as their families and supporters. 

The other accused – a mix of taxi owners, drivers and three of Gcaba’s bodyguards – appear far less shaken by the prospect of a return to the awaiting-trial section of Westville Prison, where all except Gcaba and Kunene are being held. 

The big bosses enjoy the relative luxury of the Durban Central police cells, where access is far easier and conditions less harsh than the “box” at Westville. They are also better fed. 

The difference was apparent in their physical state and the fresh clothes they arrived in on each morning of their two-day bail application. 

As Gcaba approaches the stairs, he is consoled by Vuyo Mkhize, the lobbyist who has replaced him as negotiator and spokesperson for the Durban-based Sonke Long Distance Taxi Association. 

Standing between Gcaba and freedom is Khumbu Shazi, a senior state prosecutor from the organised crime division at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), who does her damndest to prevent her well-heeled accused from getting any special treatment. 

Several times over those two days, she intervened when it looked like the court rules were being flouted by Gcaba and his co-accused’s family and friends. Once was when bags of chicken and loaves of bread were brought down to the holding cells while Magistrate Phumlani Bhengu was still seated in court. 

Another was a heated exchange Shazi had with Howse during a court recess over the fact that police had returned his clients’ cellphones to them – while they were still in custody. 

The diminutive prosecutor’s combative approach to Howse, an old school criminal lawyer who knows the Durban courts like the back of his hand, drew glowers from a public gallery packed with taxi bosses and family members – many sporting Ralph Lauren’s finest and hair from a variety of continents. 

On Wednesday, the court heard details of Gcaba’s lavish lifestyle as Howse presented a picture of an established businessman with strong family ties to bolster his argument that he would not skip bail. The father of eight owns 24 taxis, 12 of which are new and subject to credit agreements, which earn his business about R400 000 a month. 

He also owns a string of luxury cars, including a Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz C Class, Golf 7, Audi Q7 and Audi RS6. 

In his affidavit, Gcaba said he was engaged to three fiancées through traditional law and shared a home with his brother Mandla, a former taxi operator who had moved into the bus industry. 

“Although I am unmarried, I have three boys – aged 11, nine and four, respectively – and five girls – aged nine, eight, seven, five and four, respectively,” said Gcaba in his affidavit, adding that he was their sole financial supporter. 

“I own 24 taxis with an average value of R300 000 per taxi. Twelve of my taxis are very new and are subject to credit agreements with financial institutions.” 

Sonke’s dispute with the Port Shepstone-based Zamokuhle Taxi Association over the south coast to Brook Street route is at the heart of the gunfight in which the 120 rounds fired by both sides left three men dead and two people injured. The 11 men in the dock are not Sonke members, but according to the evidence and testimony under the cross-examination of investigating officer Major Mandla Dlamini, they were involved in a bid by Sonke to muscle into the route. 

Gcaba, according to Dlamini’s affidavit read by Shazi, was called to private meetings with the department of transport over the “invasion” of the south coast routes. 

The applicants’ version, contained in affidavits read out by Howse, is that they were the victims of Zamokuhle’s trigger-happy security guards, who panicked and opened fire. 

In his affidavit, Kunene (50) said he and his fellow applicants were members of the Berea Long Distance Taxi Association and had gone to the rank to monitor taxis from the Matatiele Drakensberg Long Distance Taxi Association. 

The Matatiele taxis, Howse said, had been carrying 22 passengers instead of the regulation 18, and a dispute ensued. 

The Berea group then headed for the Berea Taxi Association offices and were spotted by the Zamokuhle security guards, who opened fire after recognising Gcaba, killing one of their group, Lucas Magwaza, who fell after being hit by shotgun buckshot. He was hit in a second round of shotgun fire after “somebody shouted ‘finish him’”. Only Gcaba’s bodyguards returned fire; the rest, including an unarmed Gcaba, took cover and were still hiding when police arrived. 

Howse questioned why only his clients were still in court after Magwaza had been killed and a Berea owner, Thokozani Sikhakhane, had been wounded in the gunfire. 

At the close of the second day’s proceedings, Magistrate Bhengu adjourned the bail application until next Friday, when the lawyers will deliver their closing arguments. 

Shazi, Dlamini and other members of the prosecution team were escorted from court by the heavily armed response-team unit and plain-clothes bodyguards, while large numbers of police were deployed around the court in case of attack. 

The NPA asked City Press not to publish photographs of them because of the heightened security threat sparked by Thursday’s failure to make bail. 

Shazi took issue with a suggestion by Howse that other prosecutors address the court to allow the matter to be concluded by the weekend because Shazi was not available on Friday. 

“I am doing this case; I will argue it,” she insisted. “We will arrange a date.”

Read more on:    mfundo gcaba  |  taxi violence

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