By ZIPO-ZENKOSI NCOKAZI and SIKHO TSHOBANE.
Unhappy with only using two taxi ranks in Mthatha, taxi drivers yesterday blocked the N2 towards Madeira Street, while residents took advantage of the chaos and looted shops.
Police had to impound several taxis while traffic came to a standstill because of the blockading of the busy road. Their action comes after taxi bosses signed a peace accord following Police Minister Bheki Cele’s lifting of the taxi ban on Friday.
Uncedo Service Taxi Association (Usta) president Ntsikelelo Gaehler and his Border Alliance Taxi Association counterpart Vuyani Mshiywa, signed the agreement, which effectively ended the month-long taxi ban.
The wildcat protest began yesterday morning and caused major traffic congestion in Sisson Street, Fort Gale and along the N2 from CTM going towards Ultra City, traffic on R61 and Delville Road caused even more traffic on N2 coming into Mthatha.
Although shops and police were unavailable to confirm, there were eyewitnesses who claim that Game stores, Spar and Boxer stores were looted.
Nonzaliseko Mtati said she was on her way to catch a taxi at the Jubilee taxi rank when she saw a small group of guys throw stones at Tops Liquor store.
“At first it looked liked they were running away from the chaos but when the security guards at Tops tried to close the door, they wielded a knife and the guards ran, and that is when people got a chance to steal expensive bottles [of alcohol],” Mtati said.
The Daily Dispatch tried to contact both Tops management and Boxer store but to no avail.
Eastern Cape police spokesman Captain Mali Govender confirmed a number of taxis were impounded while transport spokeswoman Khuselwa Rantjie put the figure at 28 taxis impounded.
Govender said the protest began around 10am. “We are closely monitoring the situation and we have some of our special task teams on the scene including the national intervention unit and we will continue monitoring through the night if needs be more vehicles will be impounded,” he said.
Mshiywa said he was disappointed and angry to learn the protesters were from his association. “They are being unruly and did not get the directive from me and I do not want this to tarnish the image of the entire associations. These people know the consequences and I have already spoken to the minister [Cele] and MEC [Weziwe Tikana] and we agreed that the troublemakers must face the full might of the law.
“It is really disappointing and unfortunate but perhaps an example can be made out of them to deter others from thinking they carry on like this,” said Mshiywa.
Usta Mthatha chairman Mnikelo Mbopha distanced his association.
“We are not sure but we have spoken to our people and we have given them a strict warning to not to jump on this bandwagon because it is dangerous and borders on being illegal. We understand the consequences of going against the agreement we have with government,” said Mbopha.
When Cele lifted the ban, he did so under stringent terms. He warned that should one person be killed in the taxi industry, he would permanently shut taxi operations.
Rantjie said they were continuing with law enforcement and that it was stated in the agreement that anyone who operates outside the provisions of the law and the signed agreement would face the consequences.
Some of the said consequences include expulsions from the association, permanent confiscation of their operating licence and being blacklisted from the taxi industry.
KSD municipality has condemned actions of the taxis, saying they were negatively impacting on the image of Mthatha.
“These will stop investors who want to come here and perhaps even those that are here might even end wanting to leave if these continue,” said municipal spokesman Sonwabo Mampoza.
He said the municipality’s public safety directorate was working with the SA police services to bring an end to taxi violence.
The spokesman also appealed to community members to be on the alert while urging taxi associations to respect the decision taken by government. — firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com