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Flare-up in taxi war sparks looting alarm in Cape Town city centre

Aron Hyman Reporter
Bullet holes in a taxi at the Station Deck taxi rank in Cape Town. File photo.
Bullet holes in a taxi at the Station Deck taxi rank in Cape Town. File photo.
Image: Aron Hyman

There have been no reports of unrest in the Western Cape, premier Alan Winde said on Wednesday after a taxi violence incident in Cape Town sparked panic among commuters.

Several city centre businesses secured their shops as gunfire at the station deck taxi rank set off rumours that looting had spread from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said there was an attempt by a "small group" to loot a Khayelitsha shopping centre on Tuesday night.

"Their efforts were thwarted by the swift action of neighbourhood watch members who alerted the police as soon as they became aware of the group’s intentions," he said.

Police said an argument erupted between “disgruntled drivers” of rival taxi associations at 10.10am on Wednesday.

Spokesperson Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi said reports suggested commuters ran in different direction after gunshots were allegedly discharged by the occupants of a white Toyota Quantum.

“Police members attended to the scene and we confirm that we maintain visibility in the vicinity to maintain law and order,” he said. The suspects were yet to be arrested.

On Tuesday, new Western Cape police commissioner Maj-Gen Thembisile Patekile said no arrests have been made in connection with any of the 76 taxi-related murders committed this year.

Police sources said intelligence on taxi violence was scant due to a high workload, lack of experienced investigators and police corruption.

“The problem is there are no capable people to do the work any more, and some of the guys who are there are compromised,” said a source.

“Here you have a constable with 60 murders how can you prioritise 60 murders? The public doesn’t understand.

“Dockets like double murders, triple murders, they’re lying in a drawer, those are three lives, lying in a drawer. When you ask for a Gugulethu multiple murder docket the response you get from your colleagues is, 'oh gosh let me see, it’s somewhere in the boot of a car'.

“It’s the pressure and the lack of experience. You have arrests like with the taxi violence in Hout Bay a few years ago but then there is the hounding out of certain police officers and all that work is lost.”

After multiple shootings on Tuesday, which ended a five-day-old peace agreement between taxi associations Cata and Codeta, taxi violence on Wednesday led to four more people being shot.

Swartbooi said a taxi filled with passengers driving along the N2 to Cape Town came under fire from gunmen. Three passengers, aged 26, 32 and 41, were injured.

In Manenberg at 7.45am, gunmen shot a taxi driver in the chest. “The suspects fled the scene and are yet to be arrested. Manenberg police are investigating a case of attempted murder,” said Swartbooi.

“The victims, in both instances, were transported to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.”

Three weeks ago, national deputy commissioner for detectives Lt-Gen Sindile Mfazi who has since died of Covid-19 said detectives in the province were 28% short staffed.

Patekile said a new team would be set up to investigate the province’s numerous cold-case murders in an attempt to lighten the detectives' workload.

Winde said there were no cases of looting and unrest in the province by midday on Wednesday, but he worried about taxi violence.

Smith said a metro police officer was shot in the leg during a taxi-related incident on Wednesday in Sweet Home Farm informal settlement. 

"The officer was among a group of metro police and SAPS officers giving chase after a group of suspects who had been shooting at taxis along Jakes Gerwel Drive," he said.