Inside Cape Town's taxi war: Extortion 'receipts' and safe passage letters

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Law enforcement officers across all spheres of government have been out in full force following escalating taxi violence in various areas in Cape Town. Photo: Jaco Marais/Netwerk24
Law enforcement officers across all spheres of government have been out in full force following escalating taxi violence in various areas in Cape Town. Photo: Jaco Marais/Netwerk24
  • It will be at least a week before an agreement is reached between CATA and Codeta. 
  • However, some details of the extortion in the industry have come to light. 
  • A major MyCiTi bus route stalled because one of the taxi associations didn't agree to the terms. 

According to information presented to the Western Cape legislature on Thursday, shootings, extortion, overtraded routes and confiscating rival operators' vehicles are the order of the day among taxi operators fighting for routes. 

Some operators went as far as forcing a Laingsburg construction worker transport company to abandon its contract, so that an outside taxi association could get the customers instead. 

Extortionists also boldly issue receipts for the "fees" they demand from other public transport services and even provide letters, which promise "safe passage" through certain areas, also for a fee.

"I don't know who to consult. I don't know which police to phone. There is nobody," said taxi operator Arthur Williams.

He said two of his routes in Mitchells Plain were being hijacked by other associations. 

ALSO READ | Glimmer of hope for Cata and Codeta taxis in Cape Town as guns fall silent

Williams, the Mitchells Plain chairperson for the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), said the Cape Town station deck is currently a "ghost town", with business stagnant. 

People are too scared - in case there is another shooting. 

His interests as a director in the MyCiTi Mitchells Plain route are also affected because that deal is being delayed by one of the taxi associations and shareholders in an integrated transport initiative. 

Williams warned that the shootings are also creating negative race-based perceptions among scared commuters. 

He said:

As soon as they see a black man, whether it is somebody going to the shop, they think, 'hey, here is a gunman coming'. The department knows what goes on; they have done nothing about it.

The City of Cape Town's Safety MMC, JP Smith, said it was not true that the authorities had done nothing. 

He said they had been patrolling, had confiscated weapons, made arrests and impounded 3 668 rogue and pirate taxis.

Searches and patrols start from 04:00 in the morning.  

However, Smith said illegal taxi operators see impounding as a "business expense". 

"The associations are playing a major, major role with these extortion rackets," he said. 

According to Smith, a recent incident involving the intimidation of an Uber driver, allegedly happened right outside the office of one of the taxi bodies. 

PICS | SANDF touches down in Cape Town to prevent flare-up of violence

Golden Arrow Bus Services' general manager, Derrick Meyer, said the company could not even enter its own terminus at Nyanga at the moment. 

Taxi associations recently blocked the terminus because a route between Mbekweni, in Paarl, and Bellville was suspended after there had been 86 deaths related to the taxi rivalry.

There were at least 27 incidents of intimidation of drivers in the past weeks. 

"Our drivers are traumatised," he said.

He called them "heroes" for driving the more than 1 000 buses, which have been laid on to help commuters stranded because taxis are not operating in all areas.

The Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA) and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta) cannot use the B97 route between Bellville and Paarl for two months by order of MEC for Transport Daylin Mitchell.

It is the only route that is suspended, but feeder routes in Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Gugulethu and as far afield as George are affected whenever there is violence.

The associations are in arbitration at the moment, and the legislature's transport committee heard that about 70% of the members of the organisations are in agreement on a peace deal.

It will, however, take at least a week to finalise.

The transport department's chief director, Yasir Ahmed, said associations are brazen in their extortion of other associations and public transport companies, to the point of keeping R5 rifles at some ranks.

He said:

Gangs openly collect protection money from associations and traders at ranks.
 

They also take it on themselves to issue their permits outside of the legal processes.

He said operators stop private cars and taxis on their route, or who are not affiliated to their association, and they are forced to pay a "fine". 

The vehicles are "impounded", even with passengers still in the vehicle, and are only released once this "fine" has been paid. 

"It's not impoundment of a vehicle, it's hijacking. If there's people inside, it's kidnapping," said Ahmed. 

Ahmed continued: "They hold roadblocks, chair. And they issue notices to communities. It is about control over turf and ranks that mother bodies are vying for."

The notices, later withdrawn, ordered Uber and other private taxis not to operate in certain areas, and scholar transport and company transport can only pass if they pay the "fee".

Ahmed said nobody opens a criminal complaint, so they are not officially investigated.

"CATA and Codeta vehemently deny it, but receipts were issued," he said, and showed some of the receipts.

He said some associations completely control municipal ranks. 

ALSO READ | SANDF, police to be stationed at taxi hotspots to prevent violence amid Western Cape route closure

Ahmed said most taxi operators are decent business people, but they are being held hostage by a criminal few. He agreed that the government has to step up in enforcing non-compliance measures, and investigate conflict of interest involving government officials.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz was enraged. 

Fritz said:

How can a rank be the turf of an association, of a gang? How can that be, how is it possible, when it belongs to a municipality? Shouldn't municipalities take responsibility to bladdy take back their - oh sorry - to take back their ranks?

He said people giving lifts are abducted and taken to Bellville taxi rank - and have to pay R3 000 to get their vehicle back. 

Santaco Western Cape chairperson, Nazeen Abdurahman, said they do not have the power to arrest the people behind the violence.

He called on the police to make arrests. 

He commended Mitchell for closing the B97 to stop the shootings.

"We totally denounce this action of regions in the province that is actually tarnishing the name of Santaco," said Abdurahman. 

More than 80 people have been arrested in connection with the violence, according to Western Cape police commissioner Tembisile Patekile. 

The police have also established a taxi task team.

Patekile has repeatedly urged people to report intimidation or violence as soon as possible, so that police can respond.

In the meantime, arbitration continues. 


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