Durban - eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo has ordered the metro police to suspend roadblocks near the Pinetown CBD after a violent two-day stand-off between taxi operators and the metro police.
The decision was being taken to avert the volatile situation between minibus taxi operators and the metro police, which saw two men being shot during the scuffle on Wednesday. Many more – including women and innocent children – had been caught in the fire on Wednesday when police unleashed tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray to disperse a large group of taxi drivers.
Nxumalo said the decision was being taken to protect the public, while discussions with metro police officials and taxi operators would continue behind closed doors.
The SAPS would patrol the Pinetown CBD to ensure public safety in the metro police’s absence, Nxumalo said.
This decision was widely celebrated by about 200 taxi operators who had gathered at a sports ground in Pinetown, where the mayor delivered the news after being locked in discussions with taxi operators for much of on Thursday.
“It is important to come and address what happened here because it is taking us backwards. We regret on Thursday’s incident; we hope it never happens again,” he said.
Nxumalo said it was unfortunate that children and old people were injured and apologised to the public.
“We have spoken to officials and have resolved to stop the operation which started all of this. We will suspend the operation which will allow us time to talk,” he said.
Nxumalo called for the shooting incident, in which two taxi operators were allegedly shot at point blank range, to be investigated thoroughly. He called for arrests if need be.
Bheki Mbambo, KwaZulu-Natal’s deputy chairman of the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), accused the police of insulting taxi operators and abusing them and commuters at the taxi rank. He called for metro police officers who had been involved to be suspended.
Linda Nkosi, deputy chairman of the body that represents taxi drivers, Qina Mshayeli, told the mayor that the city had no respect for taxi drivers.
Qina Mshayeli had called for the abolition of warrants in a memorandum, and the city had responded that it would not do that, he said.
“Right now the mayor has said he will be in meetings with the taxi industry, but we have not been invited there. He has no respect for the drivers. We are alone on the road, our bosses are not there. If the city continues like this, we will make the city ungovernable.
“Please take these warrants away. Metro police just want to chase us around like we are criminals, but they can’t deal with foreigners who are here illegally – everybody knows they are all over the city,” he said.
Bafana Mhlongo, KZN Taxi Alliance spokesman, called for the mayor to also suspend roadblock operations in the Durban CBD, Isipingo and Verulam.
“We want to give the mayor a chance as he has committed himself. Let’s not threaten him,” he said.
Taxi operators responded angrily when a metro police car entered the grounds soon after Nxumalo had addressed them.
The men rose to their feet and ordered the “killers” to leave, saying “they are here to shoot us again”. The mayor watched and was seen texting on his phone at the time. Calm was restored soon afterwards when SAPS officers asked the metro police to leave.
Earlier on Thursday, metro police kept a strong presence near Fields Hill on the M13 and the Josiah Gumede (Old Main) Road intersection.
About 20 police officers stopped passing cars and arrested many motorists.
About three taxis were impounded before midday. Most taxis appeared to be using alternative routes, while others were parked at the main taxi rank in the CBD.
Metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said a group of taxi operators came to observe the roadblocks on Thursday.
He said buses, trucks and private cars were stopped and checked for warrants to show that it was not only the taxi operators that were targeted.