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Cape Town - Taxi drivers operating in the war-zone around Retreat say they risk their lives every time they go to work.
On Friday, the Cape Argus spoke to a group of drivers from the Retreat Taxi Association (RTA) at the rank in Retreat. It was agreed that their identities would not be revealed, amid fears of being targeted, allegedly by a rival taxi association.
The violence peaked last Wednesday, when six people died in three taxi related shootings.
This followed three murders over the preceding weekend.
Among the group who spoke to the Cape Argus, two men said that they had lost their brothers in the fighting. One of them had been killed on Wednesday.
“It is unbelievably stressful and difficult for us, psychologically,” one of the surviving brothers said.
“My brother is dead. Many of our colleagues have left. They no longer come to work. But, this is all I have to do for an income. If I stop driving now, I lose my job and then my life will be very difficult.”
Another driver spoke about how he kissed his wife goodbye in the mornings, with the knowledge that he “may never see or kiss her again”.
The perpetrators of the shootings, the drivers alleged, were people from outside the area who had established themselves as taxi service providers in and around Capricorn, a township outside Muizenberg.
Although the RTA and the Steenberg Taxi Association have exclusive permits to operate to and from Capricorn, this new group, calling itself the Vrygrond Taxi Association, has challenged the other associations’ monopoly of this route.
The Vrygrond Taxi Association could not be reached for comment.
“What’s more is that they are not from Capricorn,” an RTA driver said.
“We do not know who these people are, but we suspect that they (are illegal operators) who were displaced by the taxi wars in Bellville and have now come here because they saw Capricorn as an opportunity.”
The RTA drivers who live in Capricorn are most at risk.
One told of how his family’s house had been invaded by gunmen one night. When the driver’s brother tried to confront the men, they killed him on the spot, and ran off.
“Even at home, I fear for my life. That means that there is nowhere that I can go to escape the threat or the stress,” he said.
The drivers complained about traffic officers’ refusal to impound illegal taxis and about the police’s lack of visibility on the routes where the shootings occurred.
The lack of psychological support and trauma counselling for drivers was an important area of concern for the local community policing forum (CPF), Steenberg police and representatives from the RTA at a meeting on Thursday night.
“These men are damaged,” said Steenberg CPF’s Kevin Southgate.
“Many have had colleagues die in their arms. Their work is being conducted in the most dangerous of environments,” he said.
“The stress can cause them to be a danger to themselves and to others. There is a need for urgent temporary intervention for them to access the necessary psychological support.”
He recalled that the stress and despondency had led some RTA drivers to suggest going to Capricorn in a heavily armed convoy and shooting indiscriminately to send a message to rival drivers.
“When people talk like that, without concern for their own safety and the safety of innocent people, then there is something very wrong,” Southgate said.
As a temporary measure, Steenberg police have offered to make their victim support room available to drivers who need to be debriefed.
Melany Kühn, spokeswoman for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said there were sufficient trauma support resources in the area.
She encouraged the drivers to visit a local Department of Social Development office or or to phone the department’s call centre on 0800 220 250.
The police did not respond to the Cape Argus’s queries.
Southgate confirmed that there had been an upsurge in visible policing, and he said he had not heard of any new shootings or murders at the weekend.