The large peri-urban Ndwedwe area north of Durban has for years been serviced by Injabaliso Bus Service, offering passengers affordable transport, including for those who rely on it to bring their bulky goods from nearby towns of Verulam and Tongaat. Over the years, there have been sporadic threats, including the blocking of buses, by taxi operators, which have been dealt with through political intervention. Around three months ago, taxi operators resumed attempts to disrupt the service, including by threats to drivers. Despite pleas to government and police, and warnings of likely bloodshed, no action whatsoever was taken and, on 15 November, two bus drivers were shot dead in hits in the Sonkombo area. Bus operations stopped, as drivers, who live in Ndwedwe, are understandably terrorized, as no arrests have been made. Fearful residents are crying out for the return of the bus services as costs for transporting their goods have risen since they now need to rely on costlier taxis or their haulage services. While the SAPS have indicated preparedness to assist, continuing pleas for intervention by the municipality, and the provincial Department of Transport, to assist with logistics, have fallen on deaf ears.
When the taxi threats resurfaced, residents initially sought assistance from politicians and police but, when no notice was taken, they became scared for their safety. KZN Monitor letters were then sent to the Ndwedwe and iLembe District SAPS. On 4 October, they were informed that taxi owners had jammed an Injabaliso bus in Sonkombo, preventing it from proceeding to other areas to load passengers for Tongaat. The name of the association, and contact details of its chairperson, were provided. The police were asked to take urgent action against the criminal operators and ensure that buses could operate safely. There was no response. On 9 October the bus owner, Kishore Sathanlal, was shot dead in a hit at his Tongaat home. The local police have yet to provide feedback about the murder investigations. A further letter to Ndwedwe and District SAPS on 4 November described how taxis were chasing buses travelling from Verulam to Ntaphuke (in Ndwedwe) and they were provided with the name of the taxi association implicated. They were reminded that drivers and commuters feared for their lives, and the need for urgent intervention, including arrests, was emphasized. Again, there was no response. On the late afternoon of 15 November, two bus drivers, brothers Zamo and Jabulani Ngwenya, were shot dead in Somkombo, not far from KZN Premier Zikalala’s home. One of the deceased was killed while offloading passengers and the second was shot driving on hilly terrain not far away. The bus rolled, but miraculously, despite injuries, no passengers were killed. The private security company employed by the bus company arrived at the scene from Verulam before the local police did.
After telephone calls to the Ndwedwe and District SAPS, the police sprang into action, setting up roadblocks. However, it was too late. There had been another incident in which a driver was blocked by unmarked cars and threatened, so terrified drivers refused to return to work in fear of their lives. Ndwedwe residents suggested that the municipality, together with the four traditional leaders, the Departments of Safety and Security and Transport, and the police meet with the bus operator to formulate a plan to ensure the safe resumption of bus services. For the past three weeks, letters stressing the urgent need for action, sent to all these role-players, including the municipal manager, by email, and even What’s App messages have been ignored. An SAPS representative claims that the Department of Transport is ‘on board’, and, referring to complaints about the bus service made by taxi operators, suggests that a meeting between representatives of the bus company and taxi associations take place to plan the way forward – while conceding that the bus service manager is too scared to attend such a meeting.
This response is extraordinary, since serious crimes, including three murders, have been committed, and no one has been arrested and charged, despite the names of three taxi associations – – one of which has been operating in the area illegally, i.e. without a permit – having been given to the police and the Department of Transport. Since the murder of Kishore Sathanlal, almost certainly by a taxi-industry hitmen, his widow and the bus service manager have lived in fear, especially when leaving their homes. Yet one of them is supposed to meet with taxi operators implicated in the violence. A remote meeting has been suggested.
What has happened in Ndwedwe highlights two endemic governance problems in this province. The first is the inefficiency and lack of accountability of elected officials and departmental staff, starting with communication hurdles. The provincial government website has deteriorated markedly in the past few years. Many email addresses are out-of-date, few cellphone numbers are provided for administrative staff funded by taxpayers, and land lines are frequently not answered, or staff are not available. Those cellphones listed are usually not answered and voicemail boxes are full. When, after numerous attempts, emails do not bounce back, they are seldom acknowledged, let alone responded to.
The second problem lies at the heart of South Africa’s abnormally high murder rate: The unwillingness of government to regulate and police the taxi industry, which has become a law until itself. This is the industry that supplies most hit men and then covers up for them.
It is poor communities who suffer most. After a year of further impoverishment through job losses and price increases, Ndwedwe residents are now paying more for transporting essential goods, including those needed for the informal sector activities on which communities rely. Ndwedwe, like the rest of South Africa, is being held to ransom by criminals this government refuses to act against.