Shootout at city taxi rank

2018-06-04 09:13
One man was killed during a taxi violence incident in Chota Motala Street in Pietermaritzburg near the Howick main taxi rank on Friday.

One man was killed during a taxi violence incident in Chota Motala Street in Pietermaritzburg near the Howick main taxi rank on Friday. ( Nhlanhla Nkosi)

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Downtown Pietermaritzburg was turned into a warzone on Friday as dozens of armed taxi operators exchanged heavy gunfire with security personnel over a taxi route dispute.

But no one was arrested for the chaos that ensued in which a man was shot dead and another wounded.

The Masukwana taxi rank resembled a horror movie scene as heavily armed guards from Howick’s Zimele Taxi Association exchanged shots with local taxi operators.

An innocent bystander, yet to be named by police, who was trying to flee the gunfire when he was caught in the crossfire, was shot dead.

Another taxi operator was rushed to hospital after he was shot.

A car belonging to the security company was torched.

The violence started when local taxi operators blockaded the road on the corner of Boshoff and Pietermaritz Street for several hours in a protest against Howick taxi operators, whom they said did not have permission to pick up passengers from Boshoff Street.

Armed with automatic guns, GRH Executive Protection and Tactical Services security guards, who are linked to Howick operators, tried to force local operators to move their taxis, which had been used to block the road.

A confrontation ensued as local operators charged at the security guards.

However, police intervened and the security guards left for Masukwana taxi rank, where the Howick taxis rank.

Angry local operators then stormed the taxi rank.

It was not long before shots were fired with gunmen chasing each other, running as far as the N3 near Liberty Mall.

Passengers meant to board long distance taxis going to areas such as Greytown and Kranskop, ran for their lives as the chaos erupted.

Loud screams were heard as vendors tried to run to safety with as much as they could carry of their goods.

Chota Motala Street was closed for most of the day as police searched through the scene.

Dozens of used cartridges bore testimony to the tense gun exchange that had been witnessed by those at the taxi rank at the time of the shooting.

The taxi route was cordoned off with police tape and passengers had to find alternative ways to get home.

An eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said he had been left shaken by the incident. “I do not know why they go around with such big guns. They did not care about the people who had come to catch taxis who have nothing to do with the dispute. They were just firing at each other,” said the eyewitness.

Founding member of the local taxi association, Nhlamvukayingeni Dlomo, said they had been harassed by Howick taxi operators.

“They send security guards to come and intimidate our drivers here. We have permits to rank here in Boshoff Street. But these people from Howick come here and take our passengers.

“We have reported this to all authorities but we have not received any help. These people from Howick do not want to talk to us,” he said.

Dlomo said a local taxi operator had been shot last week due to this ongoing dispute.

An emergency meeting between warring taxi operators, police and KZN Department of Transport MEC Mxolisi Kaunda was called on Friday.

Police said armed suspects had stormed the taxi rank on Church Street and fired shots at security guards, who then returned fire. “A bystander believed to be in his thirties was shot in the head. He was declared dead at the scene by paramedics,” police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said.

She said a vehicle was set alight during the incident.

Police are investigating charges of murder, attempted murder and malicious damage to property, she said.

GRH Executive Protection and Tactical Services owner Anwar Khan said he was in a meeting when he was phoned by Weekend Witness and asked to be called later.

Khan, however, did not answer his phone when he was phoned back later.

Mayor: ‘Talk to each other’

Msunduzi  mayor Themba Njilo condemned Friday’s violence.

Along with MEC for Community Safety and Transport Mxolisi Kaunda, Njilo met with the clashing taxi associations on Friday afternoon where the operators were told to respect the boundaries on their permits.

Howick’s Zimele Taxi Association was told they must load at Masukwane taxi rank and not pick up passengers on Boshoff Street where the Pietermaritzburg long distance operates.

“As Msunduzi we would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of the young man who lost his life during today’s violence. What makes this even more heart-breaking is that he had nothing to do with either of the associations and was going on about his business when he was shot,” said Njilo.

He said Kaunda instructed the taxi associations to go and apologise to the bereaved family and also assist with the funeral costs.

“We are appealing to all the taxi operators to work together. Violence and destruction are not a solution to their differences; they must talk to each other,” said Njilo.

Attempts to get comment from Kaunda’s office were unsuccessful. Santaco regional chairperson Bheki Sokhela also did not answer his phone.

-Nokuthula Ntuli

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  taxi violence

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