Police on Sunday confirmed that 11 people were killed in an attack on the R74 near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday night.
The assailants opened fire on a Toyota Quantum minibus taxi carrying 17 people. Two people escaped unharmed and four critically wounded were in hospital.
The taxi was shot at more than 200 times with high-powered rifles, including an AK47.
The operators and mechanics linked to a Joburg-based taxi association were ambushed on their way to Joburg from a funeral in Greytown.
They had been attending the funeral of a taxi boss identified only as Mr Mthembu, who was buried in Matimatolo on Saturday. Mthembu had operated taxis in Gauteng.
Residents living close to the scene and speaking on condition of anonymity told of how they almost became casualties of the shooting as they were trying to flee to safety.
“It was around 6.30pm when I first heard a rumbling sound outside. I thought it was a truck that had lost control and was rolling towards my house. We had an incident like that before,” an elderly woman said.
“When I heard the noise I screamed at my grandchildren that we must run outside. I was the first out the door, and as I walked out I saw bullets flying past me. I almost got hit, but managed to push the children back inside the room and I locked the door behind me.
“We barely slept on Saturday night. I am still trembling from fear from what I saw. My blood pressure spiked after that and I had to take pills to bring it down,” she said.
Her daughter said she thought they were under attack. “The shooting went on for what seemed like eternity, but I think it was between five and 10 minutes.
“In the midst of the shooting I was receiving calls from some of our neighbours witnessing the ‘fire’ and asking me what was going on at my home, as it looked like the shooting was directed at us,” she said.
General Khehla Sitole, the police’s national commissioner, announced a 72-hour action plan to track down the killers. The crack unit probing it includes officers from crime intelligence, the Hawks and the Special Task Force.
Sitole described the attack as a “heinous crime”.
“We will wait for the investigation to advance before speculating on a motive,” he said.
IPTA was also still in the dark about a possible motive, its chairperson Buti Johannes Mkhonza said.
He said the 17 were coming home from the funeral of a taxi driver and two security guards. The three were shot at in a shop in Ivory Park three weeks ago, Mkhonza said. “We’re shocked that our members were ambushed when coming from the funeral. We’re trying to establish the cause of this shooting. Were they mistaken for another car or what?” he wondered.
He said the association did not believe both the fatal shootings were due to taxi industry violence. “This is not taxi violence We can’t relate this to taxi violence, as we don’t know why these drivers were shot at,” Mkhonza said.
Brigadier Vish Naidoo, the spokesperson for Sitole, said the ambushed group included people who were not taxi drivers.
“There were taxi drivers and mechanics in the group who were killed,” he told The Star.
Naidoo said the task team was probing whether the attack was related to taxi violence.
Taxi violence has claimed a number of lives in Gauteng recently. Just last week, two taxi bosses from different associations were killed.
Sanele Maseko, the Nancefield Dube West Taxi Association deputy chairperson, was ambushed and killed.
Themba Sam Budza, chairperson of the Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand and Sandton Taxi Association, died along with association member Fani Ramatfwane in a hail of bullets.
In May, four taxi drivers were chased in Brakpan and fatally shot by guards from a security firm called Ingonyama VIP Security.
The guards were hired to protect an official of the Greater Brakpan Taxi Association, which was hit by disputes. There had been attempts on his life before the Brakpan killing.
The Transport Ministry and Parliament linked the mowing down of the 11 in KwaZulu-Natal to taxi violence.
Francois Beukman, chairperson of the portfolio committee on police, said an intervention was needed to deal with violence in the industry.
Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande said “senseless killings” in the taxi industry continued while the government had dispute mechanisms for operators. - Additional reporting by Thami Magubane