Cowards and thugs: The reign of ‘Taxi Mafia’ terror in South Africa’s lawless streets – Andrew Kenny

Andrew Kenny sheds light on the prevailing lawlessness and intimidation by criminal elements, particularly in the minibus taxi industry, in South Africa. The majority of citizens live in fear and shame while the thugs continue to menace and exploit them. The government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenny sees as ineffective in dealing with these issues, leading to a state of chaos and terror. However, Kenny highlights some brave figures, like Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and safety officer J P Smith, who are standing up against the violence and vowing to bring law and order to the country.

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Taxi mafia exposes a nation of thugs and cowards

By Andrew Kenny*

The South African nation is divided into thugs and cowards. Most of us are cowards. The thugs menace the cowards, rob them and humiliate them. The cowards cringe and kneel. The more violent the thugs, the more the cowards cower. Decent, gentle, law-abiding citizens, most of them black (because most of the population is black), live in fear and shame. The ANC government gives way to the thugs on almost every question – and probably agrees with them anyway.

President Cyril Ramaphosa cringes before them in a charming way, with huge financial benefit to himself. Construction companies either cower to the construction Mafia and hand over their money, or else quit construction or emigrate; the useless, swaggering coward who is now our Minister of Police, does nothing. Taxi gangsters break every rule of the road, terrorise their passengers, murder competing drivers and set fire to buses (and probably trains too); the ANC government does nothing. In the face of the hideous farm murders of old people, who are often tortured to death, Julius Malema sings “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer” in front of a large cheering crowd, and the ANC does nothing. Worse than that, as Malema himself pointed out, a South African court exonerated his singing this song. Malema is above the law (as the Daily Friend cartoonist, David Doubell, accurately showed). Will anybody in authority – anybody – take on the thugs and protect the gentle majority. At last, somebody will. I saw the results on Thursday.

On Thursday afternoon I was driving back from Kleinmond to Fish Hoek with my girlfriend (her car) along the N2. We left Somerset West at about 15h00. About five km before the airport, we hit a huge traffic jam with all lanes at a standstill. The standstill extended as far as we could see. There were police cars, traffic police cars and ambulances everywhere. There were a large number of pedestrians walking along the freeway. Then the traffic began to inch forwards, at very slow walking pace. We could see smoke in the distance but could not make out where it was coming from. Most other motorists on the road behaved abominably, pushing in before others and crowding the yellow lane intended for ambulances and police vehicles.

We saw steam suddenly pouring out of the bonnet of a car next to us; it had obviously blown a cylinder head gasket. It took us over an hour and a half to get to the Jakes Gerwel turn-off, a distance of about 10 km. We were not allowed to proceed further along the N2 but had to turn off there. After that the traffic ran as usual.

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Massive strike

The cause of the traffic jam was a massive strike and protest by the minibus taxis. They were outraged because the City of Cape Town had insisted that they obey the rules of the road, like everybody else, and be punished with fines and then impoundment of their vehicles if they broke them. This horrified them. They obviously believe that they have some sort of divine right to drive through red lights, break speed limits, go the wrong way up one-way streets, overload their taxis, bully their customers and drive other motorists off the road with complete immunity. In other provinces and in the past, nobody has ever dared to confront their law-breaking. Now Cape Town did just that.

Since Cape Town is run by the DA, there was the automatic accusation of white racism. The fearful, anxious customers of the taxis, who are almost all poor blacks, want safe and reliable travel by drivers who obey the law. This is exactly what the City of Cape Town wanted too. Therefore the City must be racist.

My girlfriend and I, a pair of reasonably well-off whites in a car, suffered an hour and a half of inconvenience and some anxiety. The suffering of the poor black people of Cape Town was incomparably worse and incomparably more dangerous. A friend runs a charity in the city centre that provides free meals for the homeless. One of her employees, a black woman in her sixties, could find no transport home after work. She had to walk. It took her seven hours, walking through some of the most dangerous badlands on Earth (the Cape Flats are the murder capital of South Africa). Another was luckier; it only took her four hours to walk home. On Friday, neither of them was at work because the whole city centre was dead, and there were no meals for the homeless. Instead there were, though, buses and ambulances set aflame, some with passengers inside (who fortunately survived), and a shooting of a bus driver. There was basically a reign of terror on the roads of Cape Town.

The two prominent figures standing up to the terror are the Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, and his safety and security officer, J P Smith. Both have made firm, dignified vows to bring law and order to Cape Town and to resist the violent taxi men who make life miserable for law-abiding citizens. I find it telling that Police Minister Bheki Cele refuses to speak to Smith about the problem, saying he needed “serious psychological help”. Actually Smith is taking the firm action against violent lawbreakers that Cele is too cowardly to take. When it comes to some trivial infringement of a silly regulation by peaceful people, say, trying to surf during the Covid lockdown against sun and fresh air, Cele is as brave as a lion: with helicopters, black hat, dark suit, “shoot to kill” and accompaniment of policemen with guns. When it comes to violent murderous criminals, such as in the 2021 riots in KZN, Cele is nowhere to be seen, probably cowering in some corner with bodyguards about him.

Cele said he was “working with different stakeholders to resolve the problems”. Translation: “finding out who was the strongest, most murderous thug among the taxi mafia, and then giving him everything he wanted”. (You can see why Cele is so opposed to the Western Cape having its own police force. It would expose his own hopeless inadequacy.)

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Destroyed public transport

The ANC has destroyed most public transport for the black working-classes. It has wrecked passenger rail. It does nothing when criminals, almost certainly part of the taxi mafia, attack buses and shoot their drivers. Last year there were over 150 violent attacks on long-distance buses, mainly in the Eastern Cape. The taxi mafia was believed to be responsible for most of them. Fikile Mbalula, then Minister of Transport, was asked by Intercape, a bus company, to take action against the criminals. He refused. They took the matter to court, and the court ordered Mbalula to take action. He appealed against the court decision. Why? Was he just another ANC coward, scared of the thugs in the taxi industry? Or could it be that he had interests in the taxi industry? I don’t know. (There is no doubt that the police are behind many of the cash-in-transit robberies. Maybe other ANC instruments of state power also have interests in organised crime.)

What I do know is that as railways and buses have become less available, the working-classes are forced to depend on mini-bus taxis for transport. Uber drivers, whom I have always found reliable, safe, and law abiding, are also likely to be threatened by the taxi mafia.

I believe in capitalism, and the minibus taxis have some capitalist features. They receive no subsidies from the state; they stand alone. But they negate the two crucial features of successful capitalism: they don’t allow the rule of the law or the free market. They break the law and kill competitors. Now they are in financial trouble. Transaction Capital, a company whose main business was providing finance for the taxi industry (and whose second business is We Buy Cars) is in big trouble now when the taxi companies cannot afford to take out and repay loans. This is because of South Africa’s economic decline under the ANC and the ravages of the dreadful Covid lockdown.

One of the things that strikes me so dramatically about the minibus drivers is their hatred. They exude menace. They are very vengeful. Their awful behaviour is more than a desperate attempt to earn some money; it is also an attempt to dominate and be feared. I have heard numerous stories of people who hooted when a minibus cut them off, and were then followed by the taxi and cursed and even beaten up.

Some years ago, while I was waiting for the pedestrian green light at a major crossroads in Oaklands, Johannesburg, I saw a young woman motorist stopping at a red light, some full seconds after it had turned red. The minibus right behind her blasted her long and hard with his hooter, and made threating gestures at her. I could see she was scared, so I gave heard an ostentatious thumbs-up to show my support. The minibus driver saw this, and started screaming at me. I was scared he was going to climb out of his cab and attack me, maybe shoot me. I walked away, completely cowed, and have never made any defiant gesture against minibuses ever since, even when one nearly killed me when he went straight through a red light at high speed at a pedestrian crossing. I am very much a coward, like most South Africans – and unlike J P Smith.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

*Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.

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