Durban - Fears of an all-out taxi war in Mandeni on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast are growing after the killing of a taxi boss.
Bhekizenzo Ngcobo, 55, chairman of Mandeni/Sundumbili Taxi Association, was shot dead outside his home in Mandeni on Wednesday afternoon. He was ambushed by unidentified gunmen as he drove into his home.
His murder has sparked fears of a tit-for-tat attack by two feuding taxi associations, whose members blamed each other for the murder.
On Wednesday a government delegation led by acting Transport and Community Safety MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and Mandeni mayor Sphesihle Zulu met taxi operators in an effort to end the bloodshed.
KZN Department of Transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said the killing came two months after the department signed a co-operation agreement with the Mandeni/ Sundumbili Taxi Association regarding the legalisation of taxi operations.
“The agreement had been triggered by the killing of a female operator and her husband, who were both burnt to death in March,” Ncalane said.
“It emerged at the meeting (between the MEC and taxi operators) that there is growing tension and confrontation between the Sundimbili/Mandeni and Nyoni taxi associations over a route to KwaSthebe industries.
“This arose from last week Tuesday’s shooting allegedly involving security guards contracted to both associations that ensued at the Mandeni taxi rank.”
Police had confirmed that they had confiscated eight firearms and arrested three suspects, he said, adding that a police officer was arrested for moonlighting for a security company employed by one of the two taxi associations.
According to senior members of the Sundumbili/Mandeni Taxi Association, tensions over the lucrative route have been simmering for over four years.
The taxi operators did not want their names published, because they feared for their lives. One claimed they had established a new route after the Nyoni community approached them.
“Their community did not go to (the Nyoni association) for help. They came to us and we approached the municipality to establish the route.
“When Ngcobo took over as chairman of our association, they wanted to operate this route by force,” a committee member said.
He blamed the Nyoni association for Ngcobo’s death.
However, the Nyoni association’s committee denied this, claiming Ngcobo had been killed by his own members.
“Ngcobo wanted this route to be returned to us, but those who did not want that from his association decided to kill him because they had long wanted to oust him,” a committee member said.
MEC Dhlomo called for calm and vowed to bring the perpetrators to book.
“These killings and tensions are counterproductive and we strongly condemn them.”
He urged all taxi operators to cooperate with police.
“The area of Mandeni is now known as a hot spot for taxi violence, but our collective task is to work together to turn around this bad reputation by obtaining peace and stability, which are critical to industry growth,” he said.
Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said the provincial taxi task team was investigating the murder.
A source with close ties to the security companies working with the local taxi associations said “anyone” could be behind the violence.
“The fact that Ngcobo who was a chairman of the association was killed is significant because people within in his own association who want his position could have taken him out,” he said.