Sixteen men were in a Toyota Quantum returning from the funeral of their boss, a taxi owner, in Matimatolo, west of Ladysmith.
In Weenen, slowing down for speed humps, the occupants were surprised when two men, according to those interviewed by the Daily News, disembarked from a waiting car.
“I’m sure there were two men, but only one opened fire with an automatic rifle. I was shot in the leg, and if it wasn’t for my ancestors I would be dead. Must I become a criminal to support my family?" asked 31-year-old Nkululeko Mlaba
“We were all drivers working for the man. Why is it that we must be caught in the line of fire while the people fighting are owners? I want to get better and go home. I’m not going back to this industry. I don’t have any qualification I’ll see over the course of time what to do,” he said.
Mlaba said there were 16 occupants in the taxi and 11 died in the hail of bullets.
One escaped unharmed. Four are being treated at the Ladysmith Provincial Hospital including one in intensive care.
It is believed that a number of bullets were fired at the Quantum.
Mlaba said: “It’s so bizarre because we know nothing. We were all drivers and if there was a gripe between our employer and whoever is responsible for this, why hit us?
“These people are heartless and they don’t care who they hurt.”
The four are being heavily guarded by police in hospital. When the Daily News arrived, two uniformed police officers could be seen. About 20minutes later, four plain-clothes officers arrived.
Last year, a taxi boss was murdered on his way to Ladysmith.
In that incident, Klipriver Taxi Association deputy chairperson Muzikayifani Ngobese and his four bodyguards died when gunmen opened fire on their double-cab vehicle.
Six teachers on their way to work were also killed in that massacre.
Vukani Magubane, 28, another survivor of Saturday’s incident, said he worked as a driver for the same owner for four years.
“I don’t have a job other than this. I quit. If these people can’t sort their issues out without harming us, then I’d rather sit at home doing nothing. I only have a matric certificate,” Magubane said.
Diane Kohler Barnard, the DA spokesperson for police, said she felt terrible for the families affected by the “slaughter”.
“I was shocked that there were survivors, after seeing the taxi.”
Kohler Barnard said Police Minister Bheki Cele informed her that taxi violence was among the top issues he would deal with, but such incidents were still happening.
“Where is the crime intelligence team? Surely they would have been able to predict such an act? Why were they not prepared for this?
“People are dying. The police are constantly bragging about being ahead of the cash-in-transit heists and stopping them before they happen. Why couldn’t they have done that with this shooting?” she asked.
Johannes Mkhonza, SA Taxi Association chairperson in Gauteng, dismissed allegations linking the incident to taxi violence.
“We really cannot say what happened because we were not there. We cannot link it to taxi violence because we do not have any politics here,” Mkhonza said.
He said he had very limited information and the association would be looking into the matter.
“All I know is that the drivers went down to bury a colleague. Whether they got into a fight along the way or were mistaken for other people I don’t know,” said Mkhonza.
The EFF has called on police to do everything in their power to bring those responsible to book.
The party’s national spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, said the taxi industry had become a law unto itself, and killed and committed acts of violence with impunity.
“Society must isolate these taxi industry warlords and murderers, and help the police by exposing them. All with information to help catch the murderers must bring it to the attention of the police,” he said.
The chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on police, Francois Beukman, condemned the murders.
He said the killings were associated with the Ivory Park Taxi Association in Gauteng.
“While the committee is cognisant that a proper investigation would need to be undertaken to ascertain the firearms utilised in perpetrating these crimes, it is almost certain that illegal firearms were used.
“These firearms must be removed from our streets to deal effectively with crime,” Beukman said.
Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda has ordered a full investigation into the massacre. He distanced the incident from the ongoing taxi industry conflict in Ladysmith which has resulted in the suspension of some operations belonging to the Sizwe and Klipriver taxi associations.