The Plaza taxi rank in Olievenhoutbosch. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - A police officer was stoned and later shot while three people were killed when violence erupted at a taxi rank in eMbalenhle, Mpumalanga.

The violence erupted on Tuesday and 29 people were arrested for the unrest.

Allegations are that police went to the taxi rank on Tuesday to cordon off the area and conduct a search operation after gunshots were heard there the previous day. However, Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said they were barred from carrying out the operation.

He said the taxi drivers hijacked six trucks, one of them carrying chemicals, then used them to block main entrances and exit points in the area.

"What worries us is that one of the trucks was carrying chemicals and there are specific instructions on how to handle such trucks. If not handled accordingly, we could be dealing with a disastrous situation," Hlathi said.

Later, he said, the drivers used their taxis to block entrances into the rank.

Hlathi said they managed to remove the trucks with towing vehicles and when they arrived at the taxi rank, violence erupted where a police officer was stoned then shot.

"That led police to defend themselves. During the shootout there were three casualties which occurred and how these people died will be determined through the investigation that is underway, conducted by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

"The police officer is in hospital," he said.

Mpumalanga Police commissioner Lieutenant General Mondli Zuma condemned the incident, saying South Africa was a country governed by the rule of law and people could not do as they wish. 

"Our country is not a country where people unashamedly parade their lawlessness and inhuman behaviour. We cannot allow this situation of anarchy to continue unabated. People are allowed to protest within the ambit of the law.  

"No one is allowed to break the law despite unresolved matters that one faces. People must try to make use of proper channels to resolve their issues rather than perpetuate violence to get what they want, " said Zuma. 

Hlathi said 29 people were arrested and they would be charged with attempted murder, public violence and malicious damage to property.

The suspects were expected to appear at the Evander Magistrate's Court on Friday.

The Star