The closure of major taxi routes where ongoing conflict has claimed more than 60 lives in the Eastern Cape will hurt taxi owners’ finances and affect commuters over the Easter weekend.
(*** NOTE: Changes top of story‚ adds comment from taxi association)
Police Minister Bheki Cele has warned that the routes – the R61 and the N2 junction to Maclear and Tsolo – would be closed indefinitely unless there was absolute compliance by taxi operators with a peace accord. But one of the affected taxi associations said on Wednesday that roadblocks should be erected instead of closing the routes down completely.
“The selfishness of the taxi industry must be cut to zero‚ we cannot continue to count dead bodies like a taxi load‚” said a statement from the minister’s office.
“Sixty people is a big number‚ the killings must be eradicated . . .
“The routes belong to the citizens of this country and are not to be manipulated by taxi bosses for selfish financial gains‚” said Cele.
The shutdown of the routes follows several interventions‚ including the signing of a peace accord‚ facilitated by the provincial government to bring peace to the rival associations.
“All interventions to date have failed dismally‚ hence the Police Minister has taken drastic measures in stamping the authority of the State‚” the ministry said.
Mxwanele Qwabe‚ vice chairperson of Uncedo Service Taxi Association (Usta)‚ said on Wednesday that shutting down the routes was too harsh a measure.
“As Uncedo‚ we feel very worried about the taxi violence. Yesterday’s decision taken by the minister is too harsh. We are worried about our commuters. The people of Johannesburg and Cape Town will drop off and go back empty. To me‚ those people coming from Johannesburg have nothing to do with the taxi violence. They want to visit their family that’s all‚” he said.
He acknowledged that the police had to do their job and said the association was deeply concerned about the killings.
“Whether it is an innocent life or someone in the industry‚ as Uncedo we don’t accept the killings at all. We preach peace always. Our taxi businesses were not even put into consideration when the minister made this decision. We don’t promote taxi violence. The minister took the short cut by implementing the road closures. We will be running at a loss this Easter weekend. The alternative is to make sure that there are road blocks in all corners of Mthatha‚” he suggested.
Cele said it was not the first time that a decision had been taken to close down taxi routes. “But what is different this time is that unless there is absolute compliance to the peace accord‚ the routes will be closed indefinitely‚ so that the hand of government is felt in this area. Even if they take us to court‚ we will defend the authority of the State.
“After the signing of the ceasefire agreement 13 people have been killed and 17 cases of attempted murder have been registered; we are not a banana republic‚ therefore business cannot continue as usual. In fact‚ the taxi business can rather go down to its knees instead of masquerading as a funeral parlour‚” said Cele.
The ministry said Cele‚ together with the provincial leadership in the Eastern Cape led by the MEC for Transport‚ Safety and Liaison‚ Weziwe Tikana‚ and SAPS Provincial Commissioner‚ Lt-Gen Liziwe Ntshinga‚ had a lengthy meeting with the top executive of the two rival taxi operators – Uncedo Services Taxi Association and Border Alliance Taxi Association.
“The discussions were exhausted without any of the parties taking responsibility of the ongoing violence except expressing themselves in admitting to the severity of the pain of the ongoing killings‚ which have claimed lives of both operators and innocent commuters.
“Police investigations are at an advanced stage to apprehend the masterminds in the taxi wars.”
The police ministry announced that a team of specialised forces had been deployed to strategic and volatile areas to maintain law and order as well as to increase police visibility to ensure public safety.
Police-driven operations have so far yielded results in arresting 48 people‚ who are also positively linked to other serious and violent crimes in other provinces.
In taking the decision to close down the taxi operations indefinitely‚ Cele indicated willingness to meet both taxi operators “once they have sobered up”.
Source: TMG Digital.