Themba Cele

Durban - Passengers watched in horror on Thursday as a taxi driver was gunned down in Ntuzuma as he stopped to pick up a mother carrying a baby.

The morning shooting has heightened tension between two rival taxi associations and has left the passengers – including school pupils who witnessed it – fearing for their lives.

Thirty-five-year-old Themba Cele’s murder has been linked to a long-running feud between the Ntuzuma and Piesang taxi associations.

His anguished mother, Thembisile Cele, said last night he had died while being rushed to the KwaMashu polyclinic.

“He had voted on Wednesday but he died before he could celebrate his vote.”

Cele said she had received the news soon after arriving at work.

“My youngest son told me to rush to the clinic because Themba had been shot. I was told he had succumbed to a single wound after a bullet had pierced through, missing his left rib.”

Cele said she was devastated. “He had been a good son. He always checked up on me before and after getting back from work.”

She said her son’s assistant, identified only as Xolani, fled after the shooting, but came back later to check up on him. “In a last bid to save his life he drove my son to a clinic,” said the mother of five.

A traumatised Ntuzuma commuter who did not want to be named told how the shooting happened at about 7.30am as about eight passengers inside the taxi looked on.

She said she was seated in the third row of the taxi behind the driver when he pulled over to pick up a mother carrying a baby. A man appeared from nowhere at the driver’s window and started grappling with him.

“I thought he wanted to take the keys from the ignition, but at that moment I heard two loud bangs fired at the driver. The driver slumped in his seat.

“I could not find the strength to look. We all screamed and scrambled for the door,” said the mother of two.

She said she wished transport authorities would ban both associations reportedly involved.

“It is not safe using taxis but it is the only transport we have. I seriously need counselling. I cannot concentrate,” she said.

When a Daily News team arrived at the scene on Thursday, police were keeping watch as a crowd of angry drivers and owners belonging to the Ntuzuma Taxi Association looked out for their rivals.

Chairman of Ntuzuma Taxi Association, Velaphi Gumede, accused the rival Piesang Taxi Association of being behind the shooting.

“We think it is them because they operate unlawfully on this route. This is our territory. We have a permit to prove it,” he said.

“We have decided to park our taxis after the incident. The department (KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport) has not been helping to resolve the dispute.”

Both associations were involved in a number of shoot-outs in October and November, one of which lasted more than an hour when they squared off in New Road, Ntuzuma, leaving more than five people injured.

However, Mike Mkhize of the Piesang Taxi Association denied its members had been involved in on Thursday’s shooting and questioned the validity of the permit its rivals claim to possess.

Mkhize insisted his association had obtained a high court interdict, which prevented the other association from operating until the matter had been heard in court.

“It was definitely not us. We do not have security guards like them. The department asked both associations to dissolve their security structures and we obeyed.

“Their aim is to hijack the route from us,” Mkhize said.

Department officials could not be reached for comment.

Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane said a case of murder was being investigated.

[email protected]

Daily News