MADE IN RSA - 'Factory' makes fake taxis
Taxi on the road - Hijacked/Stolen - Chop-chop assembly - Parts sorted - 'New taxi' assembled - 'Fake' taxi on the road
POLICE have uncovered a taxi 'chop-shop' industry manufacturing fake minibus taxis that are sold to operators for as little as R15,000.
The industry has the makings of a well-oiled modern production system, with suppliers of parts, those who run assembly plants and agents responsible for selling the final products.
But what distinguishes this South African-made minibus from those imported from Japan is that they are produced by an illicit industry sustained by hijacking and stealing.
The chop shop at Nancefield hostel, Soweto, discovered on Sunday afternoon, was the second find in two weeks. Police found another one at Merafe hostel, in Mapetla, also in Soweto.
Minibus taxis are stolen at filling stations, the homes of drivers and while transporting passengers. They are then moved to other provinces or other routes in the same province.
Mechanics who ply their trade in hostels, particularly in Soweto, are believed to be at the centre of this crime. Some taxi associations have accused the police of being involved in the syndicate.
But police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said: "If taxi associations make such allegations, they must bring them to the police and they will be investigated."
On August 9 four men, including a police officer, were arrested at Merafe hostel after a group of owners found two taxis. The owner of the chop shop is still at large.
The Randburg United Long Distance Taxi Association has since formed a task team to look into the theft of minibus taxis. They have subsequently been joined by the Witwatersrand African Taxi Association, who are also victims of the syndicate.
But the Nancefield chop shop was serious business. There were two containers full of car parts. About three rooms in the hostel were also filled with car parts.
Police arrested two men who claimed to be the mechanic's sons, and two other men, one of whom was caught trying to warn the mechanic not to come home.
Taxi owner Jabulani Kunene said the associations lost at least 15 minibus taxis a month.
"We opened cases and the police could not trace these criminals or find our taxis. So we searched the hostels ourselves," he said.
Kunene said it was easy for the syndicate to use the hostel because "very few people visit the hostels because they are secluded from the community. Most of our successes have been by ourselves without the help of the police."
Last Friday Kunene and his team traced a stolen minibus taxi to Dube hostel, where they captured a man who had allegedly been involved in stealing the vehicle.
"We whipped the man a little bit. He told us that the minibus taxi was in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal," said Kunene.
The task team found the minibus taxi in Nkandla in just 24 hours. It now had a KwaZulu-Natal registration number plate.
"Some owners are willing to buy these minibus taxis for as little as R15000, knowing very well that the vehicles have been stolen," he said.
Kunene explained how the syndicate operates:
lWhen a minibus taxi is involved in an accident, the owner goes to the mechanic to look for the damaged parts.
lThe mechanic determines if a whole new minibus taxi or only a few new parts are needed.
l If the parts of a new model are not available at the chop shop, an order for a minibus taxi is placed with the thieves.
lAfter the minibus taxi is brought to the chop shop, the tracking device is removed and the chassis and engine numbers are immediately changed.
lA new minibus taxi is assembled with a new registration. It is moved to another province or a different route within the province.
Top Six national general secretary Boy-boy Mogorosi said the problem was rife.
"I know hijackings are rife in Johannesburg and Durban, but the vehicles are also smuggled to neighbouring countries such as Lesotho," Mogorosi said.
Rackson Mudzanani, spokesperson for Faraday Taxi Association, also said that incidents of stealing and hijacking happened from time to time.
Ralph Jones of the Johannesburg Regional Taxi Council confirmed that minibus taxi hijackings have been rife recently.
He said mostly the southern parts of Johannesburg, Soweto and Eldorado Park had been affected.