Taxi drivers

National shutdown – taxi drivers, police, crack down on looting…

At least 100 taxi drivers, community members and police fought off a crowd of residents who attempted to loot the Hammarsdale Junction shopping center in western eThekwini on Thursday night.

Ward 6 councilor Nkosinathi Majola, who spoke to Daily Maverick Friday morning, the situation was “now calm”.

The mall’s operations manager, Bongumusa Langa, confirmed the attempt but said residents were unable to get through the gates of the complex.

An eyewitness to the attempts, who lives near the mall and whose family owns a taxi in the neighborhood, said Daily Maverick that there had been “rumours” of attempted looting following calls for a nationwide shutdown to protest oil prices.

Daily Maverick will not name the woman for his own safety.

She said taxi drivers from the Mpumalanga Taxi Association were called to the mall when reports were received of community members mobilizing to loot for closure, but the taxi drivers managed to restrain the criminals – who were burning tires in the streets – by “shooting in the air”.

“Everyone had their guns – the taxi association, the police and the [private] Security.”

Member of a vigilante group that protected the mall from the June 9, 2022 invasion. Video screen capture: SUPPLIED

In April this year, there were also “rumors” that the mall was being targeted, she said. At this time, taxi owners again gathered and “frightened” those who were mobilizing to steal.

There are conflicting reports on how many looting attempts had gathered by Thursday night. The eyewitness said there were at least 100, “but many more were still pouring into the cars”.

Langa said that according to reports he had received, there were more than 100.

Majola said that taking into account those in vehicles, there were more than 1,000.

The eyewitness said the looting attempts came mainly from Shiyabazani’s informal encampment, “the shacks”.

“We saw them going in there when they were chased away by taxis, police and security. I would say the people I saw were between 18 and 50 years old.

langa said Daily Maverick“The mall is working this morning. Obviously we always have cops around, we always have security around, just to monitor the situation.

The mall was “totally looted” during the July 2021 riots, he said, and it took “a month or two” to resume normal operations.

“We knew what happened the last time [during the July riots] so we had to plan to make sure our safety and everything was in order [in case the riots reoccurred],” he said.

Since then, he added, the mall has been trying to improve its security, with police and community involvement.

Majola said it was thanks to the taxi association that there was no violence and attempts to breach the mall were thwarted. He confirmed that the taxi drivers fired in the air to disperse the criminals.

“It started around 10 p.m. About 1,000 people tried to enter the mall,” he said.

Majola was adamant that the looting attempts came from Mpumalanga township.

It was the taxi owners who “arrived to save the mall”, he said, and it only took “about 10 minutes” for the police to respond to the situation.

Several of the country’s largest taxi organizations have publicly stated that they will not take part in the calls for closures, but communities in KwaZulu-Natal have nonetheless experienced heightened tension following the calls for closures, which come with fears of a repeat of the July 2021 violence and looting, or at least the opportunistic looting attempts.

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Community patrol groups across the province, and particularly in the eThekwini area, have become more active, with discussions about the potential for looting. Some of the patrol groups were formed during the July riots and remain active today through organized Zello channels and WhatsApp groups.

Whereas Daily Maverick received reports of looting in the Durban CBD on Thursday evening, he was unable to independently verify this.

The July 2021 riots resulted in the deaths of over 300 people, the vast majority in the eThekwini region, and cost the country around R50 billion. Residents have stripped warehouses, malls, small businesses and closed major roads in an action that began to protest the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

KwaZulu-Natal Police chief spokesman Brigadier Jay Naicker said Daily Maverick that there were no confirmed reports of looting purportedly linked to a nationwide shutdown on Friday morning, but that he would “check and respond”.

“All domains are reporting that everything is normal,” he said via text message.

Police are on high alert following unsubstantiated threats of a nationwide shutdown to protest rising fuel prices and travel costs.

In a statement on Friday, MEC Reagen Allen of Western Cape Community Safety and Police said as of 11:00 a.m. protest actions were reported in the Kraaifontein Bloekombos area, Elsies River Industrial Estate and Epping Industrial. Protest actions in Elsies River have since died down, however. “There are also protest actions in Hanover Park Street in the CBD related to service delivery which we continue to monitor closely.” DM