Cape Town - It’s an all-out war: bodies, bloodied and riddled with bullets are being found in the streets as the death toll in a heated taxi war continues to rise.
Escalating violence in the industry has gripped Retreat, Vrygrond and Steenberg - and has resulted in the Retreat Taxi Association seeking help from the provincial government.
On Thursday, the association, including 200 taxi owners, drivers, fare collectors and their supporters, marched on the provincial legislature and handed a memorandum of demands to outgoing Transport MEC Robin Carlisle.
Among other demands, the association has called on the provincial government to:
Eight people were killed this week in shootings allegedly linked to the feud between rival taxi associations that escalated at the weekend.
In the most recent attack, a taxi driver was flagged down by a man posing as a passenger on Prince George’s Drive, between Capricorn and Retreat.
The man opened fire on the driver, who was also armed and fired back. The driver was able to drive himself to hospital, but died of his wounds.
The body of a 23-year-old man, believed to be the suspect, was found.
The conflict in the area started in January with the emergence of the Vrygrond Taxi Association and its contesting for rights to operate certain routes in Muizenberg.
The association could not be reached for comment.
One of the first incidents took place on January 21 when a 26-year-old mother, who was returning to work after maternity leave, was killed.
Leslyn Mentor was shot in the head and cheek. The taxi driver, the target of the attack, was also killed.
Retreat Taxi Association chairman Basil Nagel said that all his association wanted was to work on its routes “peacefully”.
“We are totally helpless. The increase in violence has seen our drivers, vans, and even commuters, come under attack, and the aim of the march is so that we can service our routes peacefully.
“We have experienced a surge of attacks from Vrygrond (taxi association) and we are calling for either their immediate suspension or termination of their operation.”
Retreat resident Mariam Brenner said she could not bear to see more people die.
“I feel heartsore for the families of those who have been killed. More fathers can’t die on our roads because they are only making a living. They (the provincial government) should stop showing preference to those who operate illegally, above the valid permit holders. The best solution is to just close down Capricorn taxi rank.”
Carlisle believes the violence will escalate if police do not intervene.
“The intense violence now occurring in the Vrygrond, Steenberg, Seawinds area has claimed at least eight lives and could intensify if there is not a massive and continuing police lockdown in the area.
“So far the violence has cost the lives of taxi drivers and gang members, and therefore the exact causes are not clear. The taxi violence is certainly now being amplified by criminal gang and drug-related activities.”
Carlisle said that, in the past, taxi operators crossed over into criminal activity to subsidise the money that they made from legally transporting commuters.
“The Transport Ministry has tried to minimise this by only issuing a limited number (of operating permits),” he said.
The reasoning is that fewer permits mean more income for each legal operator because there is less competition. More income reduces the need for resorting to crime.
With regards to reports of alleged gang activity fuelling the war between taxi associations, Nagel said: “All I can say about the gangs is that they are opportunistic.”
“When gangs and drugs enter the fray, my department is unable to act on its own to resolve these problems. Such criminal activities fall squarely within the domain of the SAPS. We have met with SAPS and continue to work closely with them in ensuring that peace is restored.
“Unfortunately, the disbandment of the specialised gang and drug police units by the national government has greatly reduced SAPS’ ability to deal effectively with crime of this transversal nature.”
Kevin Southgate, chairman of the Steenberg Community Policing Forum, said residents felt they were being held hostage in their own homes by the bullets flying in the streets.
Police spokesman Lieutenant- Colonel André Traut said: “It is too soon to speculate on a specific motive, or to make a conclusion that the respective incidents are related to the taxi industry.
“”We would rather suggest that all possibilities are regarded as factors and that drugs, gangs and the local taxi industry, or a combination of the three, could be responsible.
“The circumstances surrounding the recent violence in the Steenberg and Retreat areas is under a police investigation and we will not be speculating openly on possible motives at this stage.”
Concerned Steenberg residents were due to hold an emergency community meeting on Thursday night.