Mthatha returns to normalcy after taxi chaos on first day of special votes

28 May 2024 - 08:44
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A taxi protest turned violent in Mthatha on Monday.
A taxi protest turned violent in Mthatha on Monday.
Image: Lulamile Feni

Roads were reopened and the Mthatha Airport is set to resume its service on Tuesday after a taxi protest disrupted traffic and flights, car rental and other supporting services suspended on Monday.

The Mthatha region descended into chaos on Monday with main roads blockaded and trucks looted. 

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said on Monday afternoon the confiscation of guns from taxi operators had prompted "anarchy" in the region.

He briefed the media along with the MEC for transport and community safety, Xolile Nqatha, and the MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Zolile Williams. 

DispatchLIVE reported that police had confiscated almost 50 firearms, mostly from guards and taxi owners at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha last week. The guards were protecting Border Alliance Taxi Association (Bata) taxi bosses wounded when their convoy was ambushed between Nqanqarhu and Tsolo on Wednesday.

Most of the weapons were returned to the association on Monday afternoon, halting the protest action, the newspaper reported.

"Those guns had to be taken through the ballistic tests and police had to do their work because hospitals are gun-free zones. There was no way that there would be special treatment to anyone when there is a law in this country that governs," said Mabuyane.

"We are looking at this issue with interest in terms of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority [PSiRA] — exactly what PSiRA says on those issues of the high-calibre guns, rifles that are in public places.

"As the provincial government we condemn these acts of anarchy characterised by blockages of the national roads leaving commuters stranded and unable to go to work, with learners also unable to go to school, disruptions of healthcare services and other places of interest."

He said the protests had also hindered the first day of the special votes in the OR Tambo district municipality.

"Law enforcement agencies have been deployed across the province to monitor the situation and ensure safety and security of our citizens."

On Tuesday the spokesperson for the department of transport and community safety in the province, Unathi Bingose, said normality had returned with a resumptions of services. 

He said the suspension of service at the airport was hastened after five gunmen wearing balaclavas had stormed the airport, threatening to burn it if it did not close.

He said the five men were later stopped in their tracks by the police, who shot and wounded two of the men after they allegedly opened fire on the police.

"The police retaliated and a shootout ensued. By the end of it, two men were injured and all five suspects were rounded up and arrested. Two of them are under police guard in hospital," he said.

Nqatha said the invasion and forced closure of the airport was an irresponsible act and a direct provocation of the state.

He commended the police for protecting the strategic point and welcomed the resumption of services at the airport on Tuesday.

Bingose said Mthatha welcomed the arrival of SA National Defence Force members who are bringing more boots on the ground to restore and maintain law and order. 

National police commissioner Gen Fannie Masemola on Monday also announced the deployment of extra police officers to the province, to ensure that voting takes place in a safe and secure environment.


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