Durban - Scores of taxi drivers went on the rampage in Durban on Wednesday, stoning their rivals’ vehicles and robbing passengers of their belongings.
Armed with knobkieries and sticks, a group of about 100 taxi drivers caused traffic chaos in and around the Warwick Triangle precinct and left commuters stranded for hours.
They were protesting over the alleged failure by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport and eThekwini Municipality to act on demands highlighted during a city march last month.
“This government that was chosen by us not so long ago does not even have the courtesy to at least acknowledge our memo, let alone respond to it,” said Bafana Mhlongo, spokesman for the KZN Transport Alliance, a grouping of taxi owners.
Yesterday’s mayhem followed a meeting of the alliance members and drivers at the Curries Fountain grounds.
Mhlongo, who condemned the unruly behaviour, said the meeting was held to get feedback from members.
“It was not our intention for this (the violence) to happen. We held a meeting to get a mandate from our members, after which everything was supposed to go back to normal,” he said.
A memorandum handed to officials after the June 11 march to the Durban city hall demands, among other things, the decentralisation of the Pietermaritzburg office that issues taxi operating licences.
The alliance also wants legislation relevant to the industry, as well as traffic fines, to be written in Zulu.
The memorandum demanded a response from the offices of mayor James Nxumalo and Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, as well as the metro police, within 14 days.
However, department of transport spokesman, Kwanele Ncalane, said it was not true that there had been no engagement on the matter since the march.
He said a high-level delegation, led by the head of the department, had met taxi drivers to “process” the issues raised.
Ncalane said the department condemned the disruptions, illegal protests and vandalism.
“There is no valid reason for people to go on the rampage when we are dealing with issues and had provided a platform for them to address their issues and work with us towards resolving them.”
Mayoral spokesman, Sthembiso Mshengu, said on Wednesday they had dispatched a letter acknowledging receipt of the memorandum: “We are also working on a response in terms of their list of grievances.”
Mhlongo said he had not received the letter.
It was this “lack of recognition”, he said, which had angered the taxi industry to a point where its members became disruptive.
Despite this, he said the alliance distanced itself from the drivers’ actions, calling it “a shame” that their authentic grievances were being marred by the unruly behaviour.
“All of this would not be happening if they (authorities) had responded to our memorandum.”
He said it was in a situation like this that the police needed to intervene instead of “harassing” owners and drivers while they worked.
Bonginkosi Sangweni, spokes-man of the alliance’s partner organisation, Qina Mshayeli, which represents taxi drivers and other workers at taxi ranks, said drivers decided not to return to work of their own accord.
“The drivers are angry; the authorities do not seem to want to work with us, instead they ignore us,” he said.
The group made their way from Curries Fountain, stopping taxis along Julius Nyerere (Warwick) Avenue. Police maintained a presence, guiding the group to their respective ranks.
However, they regrouped at the intersection of Julius Nyerere and King Dinuzulu (Berea) Road and continued to approach operating taxis to pull passengers out.
They accused working drivers of defeating the cause - and not showing solidarity with an action that would exert pressure on authorities.
Police spokesman, Captain Khephu Ndlovu, said several taxis were damaged and a case of malicious damage to property had been opened.
He said cases of theft of commuters’ handbags while being removed from taxis would also be investigated.
No arrests have been made. Sangweni said his organisation would meet the alliance on Thursday to decide on a course of action.