A strike by minibus taxi drivers in Cape Town triggered violence that’s claimed the lives of five people and shows no signs of ending, as authorities in South Africa’s second-largest city refuse to bow to their demands to release impounded vehicles.
The drivers began demonstrating last week against the authorities’ decision to seize taxis that weren’t roadworthy or whose owners hadn’t paid traffic fines.
Several rounds of talks aimed at resolving the impasse have failed, and the South African National Taxi Council said the protest will continue until at least the end of the week.
Among the fatalities was a 40-year-old British doctor who was on holiday with family members in the country’s tourist hub. He was shot after he took a wrong turn while travelling from the airport and ended up in Nyanga township, the police said.
No arrests have been made so far in connection with the killing. At least 120 people have been detained in connection with other protest-related crimes.
“The continued strike action means that many communities are struggling with ongoing disruptions to their daily lives and ability to earn a living. People are going hungry,” Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said in a statement.
“We urge Santaco to end the siege this stay-away has placed on especially the most vulnerable communities in our city.”
The city has invited Santaco to fresh talks on Thursday following 48 hours without any violent incidents, Hill-Lewis said.
Armed escorts were being provided to buses, which were largely running as normal, and the same protection will be afforded to food-delivery trucks, he said.
The taxi owners’ association has distanced itself from the violence but says its members won’t resume services until the city backs down.
It intends to apply for an urgent court interdict that would force the city to release all impounded vehicles and prevent them from seizing others until the standoff is resolved.
Minibus taxis are the main form of transport for many township residents because the public transport system is inadequate and unreliable.
The strike has left many Capetonians unable to get to work and disrupted schooling for hundreds of thousands of children because it’s been too difficult or dangerous for them to travel.
“It is crucial that residents are able to access critical services, such as health care, schooling and social development,” said Alan Winde, the premier of the Western Cape province.
“The violence that has accompanied the strike and severe disruptions to daily life is an affront to the dignity and rights of our residents.”
Golden Arrow Bus Services said a number of its vehicles had been damaged and destroyed in strike-related violence, while its staff had been intimidated.
Some stores owned by Woolworths and other retailers have run out of fresh produce because of disruptions to deliveries and staff shortages, and some have shut or reduced their operating hours.
“We strongly condemn the violence and destruction caused by this dispute,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“Blocked roads lead to blocked business, blocked education and blocked health services, which will have long-lasting effects on life in the city. We must uphold the law, and we must solve problems through meaningful dialogue.”