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Cape Town Taxi Strike Leaves 2 Dead, Commuters Stranded

South African police officers operate during the ongoing strike by taxi operators against traffic authorities in Cape Town, South Africa, August 7, 2023

JOHANNESBURG — City authorities in Cape Town, South Africa, expressed concern Monday after a taxi strike turned violent leaving at least two people dead, roads blocked and thousands of commuters stranded.

Police said Monday a person was "shot dead and three others injured after a motorist was pelted with stones" on the road leading to the city's airport.

Authorities later added another body — that of a 28-year-old man who sustained multiple gunshot wounds in an attack "believed to be taxi related" — was found nearby.

Police said they could not rule out if the killing of an officer on Friday night in a township 20 kilometers southeast of Cape Town was linked to the strike, as it came while officers were "performing crime prevention patrols to quell taxi related incidents."

Four buses belonging to the Golden Arrows Bus company operating in the city were set ablaze, allegedly petrol bombed after crossing road blockades staged by the striking taxi drivers.

The taxi drivers, who took to the streets last Thursday, have been protesting authorities impounding their vehicles for traffic violations. The drivers have used debris, stones and burning tires to block roads.

FILE - A burnt out bus stands on a freeway on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2023.
FILE - A burnt out bus stands on a freeway on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2023.

The South African National Taxi Council, Santaco, which has withdrawn all its member’s taxis, denied the association is behind the violence.

The association's deputy chairperson, Nceba Enge, criticized the city’s move to impound their vehicles, accusing Capetonian officials of sabotaging its taxi business.

“If your number plate is not properly fixed or cracked, your van will be impounded. If the lights are cracked, your van will be impounded. If the driver is not wearing a safety belt, your van will be impounded. So, we feel that it is unfair,” he said.

Western Cape province premier Alan Winde told VOA the provincial government would not allow lawlessness from those penalized for breaking the law. He called for an end to violence.

“Citizens can’t get about their day. They can’t go to school. They can’t get to work. They can’t get to health facilities and of course that’s paramount for me,” he said.

Thousands of stranded commuters piled up at bus and taxi stations across the city on Thursday, with hundreds opting to walk home late into the night while others slept at the stations as incidents of violence erupted.

Bongani Msibi said he and others spent Sunday night at a local taxi and bus rank waiting for transport that failed to arrive.

He told VOA the group had to burn cardboard boxes to warm themselves.

The impact of the strike has been felt locally and abroad. Foreign teams who finished a Netball World Cup tournament in Cape Town had to be escorted by police to the airport.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office has issued a travel alert to its nationals.

After failed negotiations at the weekend between Santaco and the government, it announced the action would continue until Wednesday.

Winde says he is engaging the national government for solutions including weighing the possibility of bringing in the army if necessary.

Some information for this report came from AFP.