The dispute between Howick’s Zimeleni Taxi Association and its Pietermaritzburg Long Distance Taxi Association rivals over routes spilled onto the city’s streets again this week.
We can be grateful no one was killed this time despite the taxi operators reportedly pulling guns on each other as the Pietermaritzburg operators allegedly tried to kick the Zimeleni group out of the Masukwana taxi rank next to the Brookside Mall on Wednesday.
These tensions are not new. The associations have been at loggerheads for years over a lucrative route between Howick and Pietermaritzburg. Shots are often fired when they clash and some taxi operators have lost their lives, like Bhekizitha Dlamini from Mpophomeni who was killed in 2015.
Zimeleni is adamant that it is the rightful user of the route because the taxi tribunal has ruled in its favour but the Pietermaritzburg group disputes that — no surprises there.
In the meantime, the public, especially those who rely on minibus taxis to get around, are left to suffer the consequences of this taxi war. Most have no alternative means of transport. Their lives are put at risk every time they step into a taxi or go to a rank because the clashes could erupt at any moment and they could be caught in the crossfire. Taxi violence is not unique to Pietermaritzburg.
Last month in uMzinyathi near Ndwedwe, five women were caught in the crossfire during one of the taxi shootings that have become a regular occurrence there. Apparently more than 200 people have been killed and dozens of others injured since that conflict started in 2004.
The provincial Department of Transport should be providing guidance on this as it falls under its mandate, but it has failed to get the clashing parties to reach a lasting peaceful resolution. There seem to be no urgency in dealing with these conflicts even though it’s become clear that commuters are the soft targets.
Increasing police deployment whenever there are shootings is not enough because as soon as the authorities leave, the guns ring out again.