Pietermaritzburg - Commuters in Sweetwaters were left stranded after taxi drivers downed tools following a shooting incident in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Taxi driver Xolani Hlela (37) died after being shot while picking up passengers in the Shange area, a section where there is an ongoing conflict between two rival taxi groups over routes. Police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese said Hlela had sustained three gunshot wounds.“One hit him in the forehead, one at the back of the head and the third in the back. Four empty pistol cartridges were found at the scene. “The motive for the killing is unknown and no arrest has been made at this stage,” he said.Taxi owner Bhekizitha Makhathini said Hlela, a member of the Zwartkop Taxi Association, had arrived to fetch the taxi for work at 2 am as usual.Makhathini said he was woken up by a phonecall at around 3 am, informing him that Hlela had been shot. “When I arrived at the scene, he was already dead. Nothing was taken from him.“He had worked for me for more than two years and he was a very disciplined taxi driver. He was always joking with the passengers. All the people in the area are grieving.“Even when he was due to take time off, and if we suddenly got a special load, he would take the trip without complaining,” he said.Hlela’s mother Thembelihle said she had overheard her other son talking over the phone in the early hours of the morning.“I heard him saying Xolani had been injured, and I thought maybe he was involved in a car accident. His brother just left without telling us what had happened. He then came back with his uncle to inform us that Xolani had been shot and killed.”She said her son had worked in the taxi industry for about 15 years.“He was a people’s person. He always liked to make jokes. When he came back from work on Tuesday night, he opened the pots and accused us of not knowing how to cook properly. He said only his wife knew how to cook a nice meal. That was the last time I saw him,” she said.David Ndlela, founder of the church Hlela was an evangelist at, said the taxi driver was a dedicated church member who always went the extra mile.“He would take us in his car whenever we had to go to meetings without charging us a cent,” he said. • firstname.lastname@example.org TAXI owners and drivers from the Zwartkop Taxi Association have vowed not to return to work until Police Minister Nathi Nhleko pronounces on who had the right to operate the route.A taxi owner, who asked not to be named, said it was not the first time an “execution-style murder” had happened in the area.“Not so long ago, a taxi owner was shot and killed,” he said.Commuters could be seen walking while the taxi owners discussed the matter with police on a sports field.Ward councillor Lucky Mbanjwa said he was concerned about the impact the stayaway could have on commuters.“Most people depend on public transport to go to work and school. As we speak, there are people who have to go and collect their treatment from clinics and hospital.“Hopefully the problem will be resolved soon. We have to take into consideration the safety of drivers as well. It is a painful thing when a taxi driver leaves his home in the morning well and sound, and then he gets killed,” he said. — WR.