Police struggle to contain township taxi war

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of heavily armed police and soldiers sealed off one of Cape Town's poorest townships yesterday in an effort to end the violence generated by a deadly taxi war.

Hundreds of heavily armed police and soldiers sealed off one of Cape Town's poorest townships yesterday in an effort to end the violence generated by a deadly taxi war.

From midnight on Wednesday, security forces, supported by helicopter air surveillance, saturated Khayelitsha and other Cape Flats areas, closing roads with armoured vehicles and razor wire and patrolling streets in a show of force by authorities unable otherwise to control the feuding parties.

Tens of thousands of people on their way to and from work piled into private vehicles to get through roadblocks around Khayelitsha. Others walked in driving rain to public transport pick-up points outside the township or crowded on to trains. However, most welcomed the security operation.

Five bus and mini bus-taxi drivers and two women passengers have been shot dead and some 60 passengers injured in more than 70 attacks in and around Cape Town since April on commuter buses run by a government-subsidised bus service, Golden Arrow.

The attacks, which have terrorised the local community, have been attributed to two powerful taxi associations. Intent on controlling lucrative commuter routes in the Western Cape, they have demanded that Golden Arrow raise its fares and end its weekend bus service in Khayelitsha. The taxi firms have denied involvement and called for an end to violence. However, two taxidrivers were among nine people arrested and charged at the weekend in connection with bus attacks. An automatic assault rifle and a hand grenade were seized.

The Western Cape provincial government said yesterday it was prepared to close more public transport routes in other areas troubled by taxi wars should violence break out during the security blockade of Khayelitsha and its environs. But late yesterday a police spokesman, Captain Etienne Terreblance, said the operation was "running smoothly" with only a few incidents, including the burning of two vehicles.

Three people were arrested for carrying unlicensed firearms which, with 17 licensed firearms confiscated yesterday, have been sent for ballistic tests to discover if they are linked to bus attacks. Four taxis were impounded.

Western Cape's provincial community safety minister, Hennie Bester, said he was satisfied with steps taken. Security forces will remain in Khayelitsha today and a special unit brought in from KwaZulu-Natal will stay until the transport wars have stopped.

Police action follows the failure by a mediation team to broker peace. The talks broke down last week when bus representatives withdrew because of violence against staff.

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