Cape Town - Taxi wars in Delft saw the area grind to a halt as a group of 50 protesting drivers blocked main roads during peak traffic on Thursday morning.
Commuters found themselves trapped and panicking as rival associations clashed in the streets, the rattle of gunfire echoing between homes.
Residents are now fearful that they may be caught in the crossfire of the long-running feud over the lucrative Delft-Cape Town route that has been burning hot-and-cold since 2006.
Nombasa Mandla’s son was queuing in a long line at the taxi rank on Main Road at around 5am. A pupil at Queen’s Park High School, the 16-year-old is forced to catch a minibus to Woodstock almost every morning.
However, this time he never set foot in a taxi. At 5.30am he spotted a man striding towards them, and watched as he pulled out a gun.
His mother, who said the teenager was still distraught on Thursday afternoon, recounted his story to the Cape Argus.
“He said he ran, but everyone was panicking. They started running too.”
He fell under the stampede, an unseen foot crushing his ankle. As he lay on the ground, he heard gunshots go off and he quickly jumped up and limped to safety.
“He came home and I asked what happened?” said Mandla. “I was so worried.”
Elsewhere, commuters were forced to step off taxis as they found their routes blocked by the protesting drivers.
Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said that they had been called out to Main Road after there were reports that a few taxis were blocking the street.
When police officers arrived, they found around 50 vehicles blocking off the flow of traffic at the circle near the Golden Crust bakery.
He confirmed that gunshots had been fired but there had been no reports of deaths or injuries at the time of going to print.
Police, assisted by city traffic services and metro police, searched several drivers and eventually took in two men for questioning. A firearm was confiscated and police were set to conduct an investigation into whether it was fired during Thursday’s chaos.
According to the Delft-Cape Town Taxi Association, the protesting drivers were rivals belonging to the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association who have clashed frequently over the right to operate along the Delft-Cape Town route.
Speaking to the Cape Argus at the taxi rank, one of the Delft association’s executive members – who did not want to be named, fearing that he would be “added to the hit list” – said the organisation had received numerous death threats since last week.
“So this morning we stopped all of our drivers from going out, I didn’t want any blood on my hands.”
He said other associations were always trying to grab a “slice of the cake” when it came to the Delft-Cape Town route, for which the Delft Cape Town Taxi Association’s members hold operating licences.
“This is our route and we are being bullied out of it by illegal drivers,” he said on Thursday.
Operators and drivers belonging to the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association’s Seawater group, which according to the Department of Transport holds permits to operate along the Delft-Cape Town route, did not want to speak to the Cape Argus on Thursday.
Siphesihle Dube, spokesman for Western Cape Transport MEC Donald Grant, said illegal operators claimed they had a right to drive on the route because there was a demand for their services.
“The City of Cape Town has been requested to do surveys to review the supply and demand for taxis to and from Delft, because of the rapid growth of this township over the past 15 years.
The city is conducting this survey,” he said.
In the interim, provincial and city traffic services along with metro police are impounding illegally operating taxis.
“At least five such minibus taxis were impounded (yesterday) morning. These operations have been going on at different times since the unrest began.”
Grant has requested that police maintain a strong presence in the area to prevent intimidation of legal operators by illegal operators, said Dube.
But Mandla, the mother of the distraught child who was forced to flee a gunman on Thursday morning, said taxi associations should refrain from fighting until after the morning commute.
“It is too dangerous out there right now she said. They are shooting each other while our children are in the streets.”