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By Getrude Makhafola

Premium Journalist


KZN taxi peace pact meaningless without government enforcement

The taxi industry's lawlessness can largely be attributed to government's failures to police crime and improve public transport.


The new agreement between minibus taxi bosses to stop the decades-long violence in KwaZulu-Natal will become another talk shop unless government starts to properly regulate the sector and improve crime intelligence services, said criminologist Professor Jaco Barkhuizen.

The ceasefire agreement, led by Police Minister Bheki Cele, brought together the warring taxi associations, the provincial government and the SA Police Service (SAPS) in Ladysmith on Monday, where a peace pact was signed.

Cele this week said the violence is beyond the taxi industry, and that there were other issues in the sector which lead to the proliferation of other external crimes, such as the recent spate of mass shootings.

He said there were also too many unresolved murder and attempted murder cases, and the accused being largely released on bail by the courts.

Lawlessness

Barkhuizen said any little bit of effort is better than nothing, adding that all the parties involved have to “give up something” in order to have peace in the industry which is known for violence.

“The question then is, what are these signatories giving up to have peace? The other contentious issue is how one enforces an agreement like this. You need all parties to agree on something for it to work, just like any ceasefire.

“Our crime intelligence is not good, especially in KwaZulu-Natal as it was found by Judge Gerald Alexander’s inquiry that there is a massive police failure in regulating the taxi industry and the lucrative routes they fight over.”

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Alexander’s 2001 report pointed to thousands of illegally operated taxis in KwaZulu-Natal poaching lucrative routes. The unregulated and cash-heavy environment continued to fund hitmen, who were readily available to kill for the highest bidder.

According to Barkhuizen, the lack of alternative public transport such as trains, leaves the taxi industry to do as it pleases.

“The industry has become a law unto itself, mainly due to government’s failure to implement proper public transport. Any developing country would have a fully functioning rail network to help combat overcrowding of the roads and to have passengers moved using rail.

“Unfortunately, our rail does not exist anymore due to mismanagement. Because of the inability to fix rail transport, we have a growing taxi industry, which criminal elements use to enrich themselves and victimise others through violence,” he said.

‘Killings over nothing’

One of the two largest taxi organisation, the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), said it was confident that the agreement would bring peace because it was brokered by warring taxi bosses.

“The main points in the agreement state that we have been fighting for a very long time over nothing, and it is time to prioritise the business,” KwaZulu-Natal Santaco spokesperson Sfiso Shangase said.

“We are saying our misbehaviour is killing the business. We need to actively change the manner in which people perceive our business, destigmatise, restructure and look into how to improve the service itself.”

He said the KwaZulu-Natal transport department and the police will be monitoring the signatories to ensure adherence to the agreement.

“Anyone transgressing will be called out. The very same people who signed are the ones paying hitmen to take each other out. They will have to face the music.

“Gun proliferation in the province has been our concern for years. We’ve been raising this with the police and the provincial government because although very few murderers sometimes get caught, those who ordered the hit never face the law. These criminals are known by us.”

Blessing Gwala, an Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader who in 2018 called for another investigation into the violence and killings, said he welcomed the agreement.

He criticised the government for the lack of implementation of investigative findings.

“The killings have left orphans and widows behind and has crippled families in this province. We applaud those who came up with the peace pact.

“The fact that the initiative came from those who are fighting each other in the industry is commendable. All we can do is encourage them that violence achieves nothing, as we’ve seen through the political violence,” Gwala said.

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