Pretoria - The Mamelodi Amalgamated Taxi Association (Mata) yesterday accused its members who blocked the roads of riding on the bandwagon and implicating alleged criminal kingpin Vusi “Khekhe” Mathibela” for nothing.
The township was on fire from early yesterday, with major roads leading in and out blocked with tyres and boulders by members of Mata who refused to pay the weekly fee of R200.
The drivers, mostly those using the Pretoria East route, said they were taking a stand against what they deemed to be extortion. They demanded to know from the association - of which Mathibela, 32, is a member - where their weekly fees went to. They barricaded the usually bustling road, causing traffic to come to a standstill, leaving commuters stranded.
However, Mata spokesperson Bonny Ndjishe dismissed suggestions that the R200 fee was ever meant for Mathibela. He said they started collecting the weekly payments in 2017 before Mathibela joined. “These are weekly contributions for the whole association.”
Ndjishe also stressed that Mathibela was merely one of the members and not in charge, and that Mata was controlled by the executive which collected money for the association. “These are just allegations that people are making,” Ndjishe said.
Yesterday he said the alleged extortion by Mathibela - dubbed Mamelodi’s Number 1 Tsotsi - were baseless and opportunistic. “This rumour has spread and I don't want to say much about it.”
But more than 100 protesting taxi drivers said Ndjishe was protecting Mathibela, who is in custody for allegedly being part of a group terrorising the community in Mamelodi.
Many who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, told the Pretoria News that the fee had gone up from R55 to R200 since Mathibela stepped in.
According to a driver, they started off paying R55 to the association, but after Mathibela took over it went up to R200. “When we started paying it was for issues such as funeral cover and the overall running of the association.”
Residents, including schoolchildren were affected and had to use alternative roads, causing major backlogs. A Re Yeng buses from Mahube and Nellmapius were also disrupted.
Police Minister Bheki Cele previously told taxi drivers not to pay the fee until Mathibela's matter was resolved with the law. But the taxi operators said Mathibela's cronies had been collecting the fee regardless.
A handful of taxi drivers supported Mathibela, saying he brought order into the township. “Look, our children are not going to school because there is now no order. Every place needs a leader for control, and Khekhe is our leader,” his supporter said.
He also said some people were using Mathibela’s name for their own gain. “Think about it, how can such a young man cause so much trouble, really?”
As discussions around the issue were held, the roads were re-opened, and from about 11am traffic was steadily following again, with a heavy police presence keeping a watchful eye.
Mata and the drivers were engaged in talks from about 10am and the outcome was not known by late yesterday.
Mathibela is fighting his arrest in Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, saying it is illegal and should be set aside.