Taxi drivers likely to face terror charges
Durban - The State will throw the book at 15 men who are allegedly part of a group that went on a rampage in the Durban CBD last month, stoning vehicles and assaulting people, during a taxi strike.
On Wednesday the Durban Magistrate’s Court heard the 15 men were facing 150 counts relating to charges including malicious injury to property, public violence, common assault, aggravated robbery and obstructing traffic.
Taxi operators went on a one-day strike on May 26 to demand that the city’s metro police release 295 minibus taxis that had been impounded for not having permits.
The protests were violent and some protesters marched to the city hall demanding to speak to Mayor James Nxumalo.
The strike was called off the following day when the city agreed to release 40 impounded taxis without any fines being paid and the remainder were released because the owners had agreed to a fine payment plan with the metro police.
Prosecutor Barend Groen said on Wednesday that the State was opposed to bail and he intended to charge the men in terms of the Terrorism Act of 2004, but needed special permission from the office of the national director of public prosecutions to do so.
Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger said on Wednesday he strongly agreed with the tough stance adopted by the State as the taxi industry should not be allowed to act with impunity.
Conductors Khetani Mkhize, Senzo Shange, Simdimkhe Khawula, Nkosinathi Mkhize and Tsepiso Mokado have been charged along with drivers Bhekowakhe Mabuza, Scelo Zulu, Omega Dhlamini, Mondli Mdlalose, Simphiwe Mthambo, Mandla Mkhwanazi, Sengezo Mathe and Msindiseni Phoswa, as well as rank manager Phumelela Nzama and Bongani Fuyaiya, who washes taxis for a living.
They have been charged with blockading roads, and stoning 80 buses, 25 cars and buildings during the strike in the city centre, as well as assaulting a journalist, damaging the SABC headquarters and destroying rubbish bins and other municipal property in the city centre.
The State said they tried to take back the impounded taxis, but the police stopped them.
Relatives of the men packed the public gallery on Wednesday and court security stood guard to ensure there were no disruptions. Groen handed in media articles describing the violence and said the men were being charged under the principle of “common purpose”.
The accused men’s representative, Attorney Ridewaan Sayed, handed in affidavits in support of the bail application. The men said they intended pleading not guilty to the charges against them.
They said they had fixed addresses and would not evade their trial if released on bail and could afford bail of about R2 000 each, which would be paid by their employer. The men admitted they participated in a protest, but said they had not been involved in any violence.
They said they were arrested because they were “closest” to police vehicles after police officers had used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Burger said there had been numerous incidents in Durban in which the taxi operators had protested when police had taken action against them for contravening traffic laws. “These protests by the taxi industry when law enforcement authorities are trying to do their job have to be stopped. They challenge the authorities’ right to uphold the law and hold the system to ransom. While their right to conduct lawful business must be respected, they cannot be allowed to act outside the law and get away with it. If it continues like this, then the system would be encouraging a state of lawlessness.”
Other incidents in which taxi operators have held illegal protests include one in April when armed taxi operators chased workers off construction sites for the R20bn Go!Durban public transport project. In October, taxi operators from areas west of the city caused mayhem in the CBD when they blocked Dr Pixley kaSeme (West) Street, in protest against the Go!Durban 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. In July, about 100 armed taxi drivers caused chaos in and around the Warwick Triangle. Last 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.
The case was adjourned to Thursday for further evidence.