Durban buckles under taxi pressure
Durban - The eThekwini Municipality has once again buckled under pressure from Durban taxi operators, releasing more than 40 impounded taxis – apparently without collecting any fines.
The decision to release the vehicles prompted criticism from several councillors, with DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango saying taxi operators had held the city to ransom, “pointing a gun” at city leaders. “How long can we sustain a situation where people break the law and expect city and provincial leadership to always rescue them through a political solution?” he asked.
Thousands of commuters were left stranded and traffic came to a standstill on Tuesday when taxi operators blockaded roads, burnt bins and stoned buses and vehicles in the Durban CBD, with 15 people being arrested for public violence.
By Wednesday, most taxi operations had returned to normal.
The operators demanded the release of 295 minibus taxis which had been impounded by the metro police. They marched on the city hall and protested until mayor James Nxumalo adjourned an executive council meeting to allow taxi industry representatives to address him.
The city said it had agreed to the “speedy processing of impounded taxis following due process” so the remaining taxis could get back on the road – but did not respond to queries last night on whether the outstanding fines had been paid.
But according to Sfiso Mthethwa, chairman of the Greater North Taxi Association, no fines were paid on Wednesday, while Mncwango said he also understood the taxis had been released without the payment of fines.
Mncwango said while he believed some of the taxi operators’ grievances were valid, there were reports that taxi operators walked up to police vans and released fellow drivers who had been arrested.
“These taxi guys want to show how weak our law enforcement is. By burning a municipal vehicle in front of police and city hall, they were showing how powerful they are.”
Nxumalo said: “The destruction of property and injuring of innocent people will not be tolerated. Our lines of communication are open and we want to ensure there are regular meetings with members of the taxi industry.”
City manager Sibusiso Sithole said that “during a meeting with prosecutors dealing with the release of vehicles, they explained that the city was dealing with a difficult situation which called for urgent intervention”.
“We explained to the state prosecutor that if the matter is not speedily resolved it could cause huge damage to the city and the KwaZulu-Natal province as well as negatively affect commuters.
“We don’t want to ever find ourselves in this situation, but what needs to be clearly understood is that metro police have the power to enforce the law and law enforcement operations will continue,” said Sithole.
This was not the first time the operators had put pressure on the city to accede to demands. Last month, armed taxi operators chased workers off construction sites for the R20 billion Go!Durban public transport project.
Last October, taxi operators from areas west of the city caused mayhem in the CBD when they blocked Dr Pixley kaSeme (West) Street, again in protest against the Go!Durban transport system.
In August, Nxumalo ordered the metro police to suspend roadblocks near Pinetown’s CBD after a violent stand-off between operators and metro police. And in July, a group of 100 armed taxi drivers went on the rampage, causing chaos in and around the Warwick Triangle precinct.
In June, a taxi march in Dr Pixley KaSeme Street turned violent. In the same month taxi operators smashed shop windows, stoned buses and damaged a metro police vehicle.
Last night, MF councillor Patrick Pillay said eThekwini had set “a terrible precedent” and he was sad to see the municipality back down.