Extortion, corruption, violence: Western Cape taxi wars 'playbook'
'They recruit municipal officials, they recruit political players, they recruit members of the SAPS. And that is something that has to be looked into,' said Western Cape chief director for transport regulation, Yasir Ahmed.
Taxi violence in the Western Cape is following a playbook, where control is gained by extortion, corruption and violence.
This is according to Western Cape transport officials.
During a Western Cape legislature transport portfolio committee briefing on Thursday afternoon, provincial chief director for transport regulation, Yasir Ahmed, provided a detailed briefing on the causes of the violence between taxi associations.
He said the war between the province’s two main taxi associations — Cata and Codeta — was worsened by a leadership vacuum caused by the murder of Cata leader Victor Wiwi in April. This had led to younger and more aggressive leadership structure sidelining the association’s old firm.
Also within Codeta — an association Ahmed described as historically more stable — a leadership vacuum was created by the death of long-serving leader Vsumuzi Msela in September last year. Ahmed said the organisation's acting leader, Dali Speelman, was also being challenged from within the association.
But the playbook of the takeover of small associations by larger mother bodies is one of the root causes of the greater conflict. And this, along with the extortion being committed by Cata and Codeta, poses real risks to the province.
“There’s a playbook that is unfolding. You have a registered local association that works very well with the planning authority. That local association, because it is based in that municipality, develops integrated transport plans with the municipality to help balance the supply and demand.
“So there is a role with minibus taxi associations at the route level, but a group of illegal operators, sometimes a group of disgruntled drivers from the local associations, then starts operating illegally from a makeshift rank and the local association or their municipalities take action,” he said.
In response, municipalities issue fines and taxis are impounded. The illegal operators then decide to run to Cata or Codeta for protection and lobbying power.
“Now we know, and this has been admitted to by the leaders in the minibus taxi industry, that they recruit individuals with this type of pull, with this lobbying power.
“So they recruit municipal officials, they recruit political players, they recruit members of the SAPS. And that is something that has to be looked into.
“In the absence of effective law enforcement the first local association that is the legitimate local association in that area on those routes then are in a sense are forced to affiliate with the second rival mother body,” said Ahmed.
He said the rival local organisations would end up paying fees to their newly adopted mother bodies for protection, and also allow the mother bodies to deploy additional taxis on the routes in their town.
“It is a big problem and it is one of the underlying causes of the conflict that we are facing but also the conflict that sprang up not just in Paarl and Mbekweni but conflict in Ceres, Saldanha, George, conflicts throughout the province and therein lies the problem that we have to address,” he said.
Ahmed added that the mother bodies and local taxi associations and leaders viewed taxi ranks as their turf and were recruiting gangsters to enforce control over ranks and interchanges.
“The leaders themselves have indicated that they recruited these strongmen and they are unable to now control the criminal element in their ranks and we as government have to help them now as enforcement, as SAPS, as the regulating authorities, we have to help the legal operators to get to a point where they can clean up their ranks of the criminal element.
“Now operators both legal and illegal, informal traders, and even private companies are having to pay fees to taxi leaders or gangsters at the taxi ranks.
“Now I want to emphasise here in my statement: the minibus taxi industry is comprised of the majority of operators who are decent people who simply want to make a decent living for their families. But the industry, however, to my mind, has been hijacked by a criminal element that is holding even the legal operators and the decent operators hostage — and so also the communities and commuters they are supposed to serve,” he said.
Ahmed said that it was the associations themselves who had started engaging in grand extortion along the roads between the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.
He said the associations had “patrol vehicles” who issue “spot fines” and “release fees” to funeral undertakers and even families travelling between Cape Town and the Eastern Cape if the vehicles could not produce a “receipt” of payment to one of the mother bodies.
“There are reports of private companies and even staff transport companies being required to pay large amounts for annual permits or pay up to R3,000 release fees,” he said. “Vehicles with passengers in them are effectively hijacked and rerouted to ranks and only released on payment of these release fees. Staff and learner transport contracted by employers or parents are forced to pay for annual permits or registration,” he said.
He said Cata and Codeta were openly communicating their illegal practices to their targets with the tacit support of local political and community organisations.
“Mother bodies and associations set conditions and limits which are not set by the government. Local residents are reluctant to open criminal cases. When a vehicle is hijacked and someone pays a release fee they are only too glad that the vehicle is released and that they are safely released,” he said.
“We cannot expect those people to open criminal cases because they will be threatened and I’m glad the police have taken measures that they’ve taken,” said Ahmed.
He said that uniformed law-enforcement officers have been threatened by associations when they tried to intervene with these hijackings and the police were unsure how to react.
Ahmed said a wind farm construction project near Laingsburg was targeted by the taxi associations who demanded that the vehicles contracted to take staff to the construction sites pay fees to them.
“Now Cata and Codeta saw these staff transporters transporting staff to these construction sites and Cata and Codeta said no, they have got the sole right to transport anyone in this province,” he said.
“The Laingsburg black business forum, many of their members were given contracts to transport those people and they were given licences to do so, and they had legal contracts to do so,” said Ahmed.
“When the mother bodies prevent other legal operators from entering into such contracts believing they have the sole right to do so it’s just pure criminality,” he said.