'talk before you start fighting'

KWAZULU-NATAL MEC for transport, community safety and liaison Willies Mchunu has urged rival taxi operators on the North Coast to "talk beforefighting".

Mchunu met taxi operators after last Friday's exchange of gunfire at the Mandeni-Sundumbili taxi rank.

The shootout took place between two rival security companies appointed by opposing factions in the taxi association.

Three taxis were damaged and police recovered about 400 spent cartridges on the scene. Twenty-three suspects were arrested and 23 assault rifles and two pistols confiscated.

No one was injured.

Mchunu told the taximen: "Talk before you fight. Don't fight and then talk.

"Speak the truth and be honest with yourselves. If not, this conflict will never end. In any conflict the first casualty is the truth."

Mchunu said he was satisfied that a solution was imminent after he held marathon talks with all relevant taxi operators on Wednesday.

"The only remaining hurdle is that it is not yet clear who holds the rights over the Sundumbili-Mandeni-Tugela taxi route. The public transport registrar is now tasked with this.

"We will return to report back within days. The registrar's report will enable us to consolidate a long-term solution and avoid a repetition of the politics of brinkmanship that was displayed here on that fateful Friday morning," he said.

Mchunu said he was concerned that while everyone had a right to hire a protection company, there was no law that determined the number of bodyguards per private individual.

"It means that all of you, individually, can actually hire a private company to provide you with security.

"Be that as it may, as government we cannot allow these companies to become a law unto themselves and a danger to public transport users and the public," he said.

Mchunu's intervention has also led to the postponement of the association's new executive elections that would have been held later this month.

"We need to establish who has a right to even stand for those elections," he said.

The association was not available for comment and the person who answered the phone could only say the election of the new executive had been postponed.