Taxi wars

2009-02-21 00:00

When three men were gunned down near a taxi rank in the Pietermaritzburg CBD on Thursday, the immediate suspicion was that the killings were related to conflict over taxi routes. On the same day, an Umlazi court heard that witnesses in the case of the assassination of Inkosi Mbongeleni Zondi, a matter also allegedly linked to taxi wars, feared for their lives. The ongoing problem of regulating the taxi industry and dealing with turf wars presents a challenge that surely must be met.

The emergence of the “kombi” taxis in the late apartheid years could be seen as a significant step towards the economic empowerment, and indeed the liberation, of until that time repressed people. Here was a commendable entrepreneurial spirit asserting the right of the masses to freedom of movement. From the start, the industry has necessarily been toughly combative, but this has had its damaging consequences. Under pressure to deliver ever more paying customers, drivers have gained a reputation for cavalier lawlessness. Dangerous driving in unsafe vehicles is a major contributor to the country’s appalling road death toll, and while the government has invested in upgrading the taxi fleets, passengers are beginning to assert their right to safe travel.

At the heart of both problems — the murderous taxi wars and the wild driving — lies fierce competition over the most lucrative routes. Regulation will be difficult, but it must be achieved. Transport MEC Bheki Cele is reportedly himself under threat. He needs every support from the police and the politicians.

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