Bullets fly as tow truckers' deadly turf war hits KZN
Bloody clashes in Durban's tow-truck industry, underscored by drive-by shootings, have spilt onto the streets.
The push for control of the city's accident and recovery sector has resulted in what police sources say were ordered killings of three towing company bosses.
As tensions simmer, hair stylist Fistos Alimas is counting the cost of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, taking a bullet meant for Street Kings head Ralph Gabriel. "I was standing on the side of the road when I heard the gunshots and I just started to run … then I felt that heat in my leg," said Alimas.
Gabriel's car was surrounded by gunmen and peppered with bullets in Berea two days before Christmas, with a stray bullet tearing into Alimas's leg.
"There was blood everywhere and I just kept running. Later when all the men had left I went back and waited for paramedics . luckily the bullet only hit my leg," he said.
Gabriel had previously been in conflict with another towing firm and in 2016 found himself in the Durban high court, interdicted from assaulting or threatening the rival.
In October, One Stop Towing owners Imthiyaz Khan and Megesh Naidoo were gunned down in a shooting at a petrol station on Ridge Road.
They were there with their bodyguards when a car pulled up and released a salvo of gunfire, leaving Khan and Naidoo dead and three others wounded.
In July, a rival tow-truck driver from KasiBoys was shot and wounded.
A source in the towing industry, who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, said a storm was brewing. "It's going to get worse, just wait for the retaliation. His [Gabriel's] killing won't be the last and it's going to be a bloodbath," he said.
Durban's towing industry has been characterised by violent competition for decades, with battles over turf often turning deadly.
Andre van der Merwe, chair of watchdog body South African Towing & Recovery Association, said the towing industry was steeped in violence. "They vigorously contest their turf and it often ends in bloodshed. This is not something new," he said.
"The towing industry is a challenging one and it's not a game for soft fellows. It's a rough and tumble space. I feel sorry for the public because they will be caught in the middle of this volatile competition."
Police and crime intelligence sources said the killings were part of the industry.
"The towing game is a murky arena to operate in and everything is interconnected. We have to understand the possibility that the killings are linked and who would stand to gain," one source said.
However, KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Capt Nqobile Gwala said at this stage there was no link between the cases opened. He appealed to people with information to call 0860-010-111.
Car accidents are lucrative for tow-truck operators, who can pocket tens of thousands of rands for towing a single car.
Some panel beaters sweeten the deal with a R5,000 cash gift to secure business, with tow-truck drivers sometimes getting a percentage of the overall repair costs.