Extortion crisis: Even funeral undertakers, mourners driven to funerals targeted

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An Intercape bus.
An Intercape bus.
  • The extortion crisis that has seen Intercape bus drivers attacked is so widespread that even funeral undertakers are not immune, the Western Cape legislature heard. 
  • With more than 150 attacks on its buses since 2021, Intercape wants to know why authorities are ignoring their pleas for help. 
  • The company's lawyer claimed an MEC suspended their services in parts of the Eastern Cape and told the company to negotiate routes and fares with taxi companies.

Attacks to force extortion payments out of public transport services reached a crisis point a long time ago. Still the government, the police, and even the Presidency have not replied to letters begging for help, a lawyer for Intercape said on Friday. 

"Despite what seems to be clear, hard and credible evidence, no arrests have been made. Not a single shooter has been arrested," said Jac Marais, attorney for Intercape.

In a presentation to the Western Cape legislature's transport committee he said even funeral undertakers, mourners travelling to funerals and other bus services are being targeted for extortion or robbery.

Speaking to a high-level delegation of rail, bus and taxi interests in a crisis meeting at the Western Cape legislature, Marais said it was so bad that the MEC for transport in the Eastern Cape suspended some of their routes without consultation, after taxi associations demanded it.

READ | Tavern killings: Extortion is a possible motive, says expert

Marais said that there was a massive strike by a taxi association in Eastern Cape on 27 May. He said the transport MEC met the taxi representatives, who said they wanted Intercape suspended in the province.

He said the MEC told Intercape to negotiate with the taxi operators over routes and fares and suspended the bus company's operations in parts of the Eastern Cape without discussing this with Intercape. 

Marais said Intercape found this outrageous considering it is a fully licenced operator in the province. 

"It is a startling proposition that an MEC would represent essentially, and advance the cause of those conducting themselves criminally," said Marais. 

He said that it was incredibly dangerous for Intercape drivers to work. 

In April, Intercape driver Bangikhaya Machana was shot, and later died, as he drove a bus out of the depot in Airport Industria. 

Escorts had been arranged, but were not always possible. When the escorts withdrew, the shootings started, which left Intercape suspicious that there was a leak within the police. 

According to Intercape, attacks on buses on 4 June, 5 June and 26 June had taken place when the police had not been able to escort the buses.  

READ | Intercape bus driver killed as violent attacks on the company escalate

Marais said Intercape had handed in photos of attackers' vehicles with number plates and photos of the shooters, but the police had not made a single arrest. 

He said in March taxi representatives had told Intercape that they must increase their prices, that they must charge R1 000 a ticket by the end of 2022, that departures must be before noon, and they may not operate in Cofimvaba, Dutywa, Butterworth, Ngcobo, Tsomo and Nqamakwe. 

Marais warned that the attacks were becoming increasingly violent and sophisticated. In 2022, there have been more than 80 attacks, with 19 shootings and 29 incidents of rocks thrown. There were 150 attacks in 2021.

Marais said there had been more attacks on the buses since the beginning of August, and predicted that his statistics would be outdated by Friday evening.

On Wednesday a driver on the N2 heading for Cape Town station to fetch passengers was shot and wounded near the Jakes Gerwel turnoff. He tried to take the offramp to get away and seek help, but he was injured and the bus careened down a slope. The driver was taken to hospital.

A short while later, a second Intercape coach was shot at in the same area. No one was injured and there were no passengers on board at the time. The coach was taken back to the depot. 

On Sunday, a driver was shot and wounded outside the depot. He was in a serious but stable condition.

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