Vrygrond taxi driver beaten at roadblock
Long running tensions between City of Cape Town traffic authorities and the Vrygrond Taxi Association boiled over into a roadside beating of a taxi driver in Muizenberg on Tuesday.
State prosecutors allege that the driver was arrested after trying to run over a traffic officer. The driver, supported by the association and a shocked passenger, denies this.
On Tuesday morning Shereen Maans, 24, was on her way to Muizenberg court with her two children in an overloaded taxi when a routine roadblock descended into a violent attack by traffic officers. When the taxi’s driver, 34-year-old Welile Genuka, refused to step out of his vehicle an officer smashed the driver’s seat window with a baton.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. Glass went flying all over my children,” said Maans.
“The poor driver was terrified. He went scrambling over the other passengers to the back of the vehicle.”
Seconds later, passengers clambered out of the taxi leaving Genuka by himself in the back seat. From there two officers dragged him onto the dusty pavement and beat him with their fists and a baton. Genuka alleges that at least four other officers joined in the beating.
“When they lifted him to his feet, he was bleeding from a huge gash in his head,” said Maans.
“You couldn’t see his face through all the blood. Shame, he was very scared and we felt sorry for him. I am angry. How can people employed to uphold the law act this way?”
Genuka appeared in the Muizenberg Magistrates Court on Thursday. He stands charged with attempted murder, reckless and negligent driving and resisting arrest. The state prosecutor handling the case alleged that Genuka had accelerated at the officer who had tried to pull him over, with the intent of running him over.
But Genuka, who appeared in court with a bandaged head and complaining of dizziness, nausea and abdominal pain, denied this allegation. He concedes that he was going “fast” and explains that he noticed the officer too late and could only bring his taxi to a stop some metres away. In an interview with GroundUp, shortly after being released on R3,000 bail, Genuka attributed his refusal to step out of the vehicle to a fear of traffic officers – whom the Vrygrond Taxi Association (VTA) accuse of attaching intimidation and beatings in their enforcement of traffic violations. Genuka said that a rumour of a colleague’s beating had spread around the taxi rank on Tuesday morning.
The VTA have been in a long running dispute with the Western Cape Department of Transport over operating licenses. Gcobani Nombewu, the association’s secretary, accuses the Provincial Licensing Board of withholding licences on key routes without reason. These routes, which run variously from Vrygrond to Wynberg, Blue Route Mall (via Muizenberg) and Cape Town, are nonetheless being used by the VTA to ferry customers.
“This is a demand of our customers, who would otherwise have to waste time and money, by taking connecting taxis on other routes, to get to their destination,” said Nombewu. “It is also a big part of our business, and we have been running these routes without clashing with anyone but the traffic officers for years.”
Asked whether she supported the unlicensed taxis, Maans said that she did because of their efficiency in getting to a particular destination.
The Blue Route Mall route, on which Genuka was pulled over and arrested, has 15 taxis which each do between five and seven roundtrips daily. But, the profits for taxi owners who run unlicensed taxis on these routes are dented by regular vehicle impounds. It costs R9,500 for an impounded taxi to be released, said Nombewu.
“This beating was a very bad one. They say that the cops would’ve killed him if the taxi owner (Genuka’s employer) wasn’t called to intervene. We’re so tired of this. It’s time that those licenses are given to us, because we can’t carry on living in fear of traffic officers,” Nombewu added.
Richard Coleman, spokesman for the City of Cape Town’s Traffic Services, said that unlicensed taxis operating illegally on routes was a perennial problem throughout the city. Regulating the practice, through stopping and impounding vehicles, was necessary to protect passengers and prevent bloody taxi wars between licensed and unlicensed operators. The traffic portfolio would be meeting to discuss city-wide trends and progress in curbing the scourge.
“I think it’s important to get on top of it before it gets completely out of control. We are at a critical phase now, because there has been an increase in these unlicensed operations. But, I also think that we are on track to stopping it,” he said.
City Safety and Security director Richard Bosman confirmed that the City will investigate the assault allegations against their officers and advised Genuka to lay charges with the police. Genuka confirmed to GroundUp that he intended on doing so.
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