A lawyer representing a group of close to 90 Gauteng-based taxi drivers and owners intends seeking a High Court order compelling Provincial Police Commissioner Nneke Ledwaba, one of his deputies and Polokwane Station Commander Mosima Maila to ensure the enforcement of an earlier ruling allowing the operators to transport passengers to and from Polokwane after failing to provide them with protection on Sunday.
This followed the institution of a criminal case of contempt of court with the Polokwane Police against three operators of rival associations later that day, Polokwane Observer was informed.
Ledwaba is seen to reportedly have turned a blind eye to a highly volatile situation in downtown Polokwane on Sunday, which carried the potential of erupting in a full-scale taxi war between members affiliated to the applicant, LLB Beleggings BK and six rival taxi associations listed as respondents in an initial application before the Limpopo Division of the High Court for the 86 members to be allowed to operate along the Polokwane-Gauteng line. At the time the busy rank and surrounds were bustling with pedestrians and commuters waiting to catch taxis off the intersection at the corners of President Kruger and Devenish streets.
According to information members of both associations were allegedly prepared to defend themselves in case of a threatening clash, which was reportedly avoided due to LLB Beleggings BK members adhering to a request to withhold any action against rival associations.
The initial order was obtained against Marothong Taxi Association, Regona Taxi Association, Mphebatho Taxi Association, Polokwane-Germiston Taxi Association, Polokwane-Tembisa Taxi Association and RSA Taxi Association. An order following an opposed application for leave to appeal against an initial judgment and a ruling made in November last year was issued in January this year. The initial order, among others, interdicted the respondent from interfering, restricting and obstructing the applicant and its affiliate members from utilising, accessing and or using the taxi rank facilities at 87 President Kruger Street.
Prior to a meeting at Polokwane Police Station where emotions ran high on Sunday afternoon Eliot Buthane, the lawyer for LLB Beleggings BK, told Polokwane Observer that he had advised his clients to play by the book and turn to the Police for back-up in a bid to avoid possible bloodshed, rather than taking the law into their own hands if they would have been prevented from loading passengers that day. By then taxi drivers and owners were already waiting since 07:00 for assistance from the Police to deploy resources to the rank in the city centre where they intended to load passengers for a long-haul trip to Gauteng. By mid-afternoon they could have already been on their way back with their second return trip if they were allowed to operate as stipulated in the court order, it was stressed.
At the time Buthane said the Police chief had informed him that he was on his way to Mpumalanga at around 10:00, and that he had established that no alternative arrangements had been made by Ledwaba to ensure a safe working environment for his clients. The undertaking for securing their safety was given during a meeting with Deputy Provincial Commissioner Jan Scheepers last Tuesday after a telephonic conversation with Ledwaba, he said.
To this effect Buthane provided a copy of a letter by JL Rahlagane Attorneys in Pretoria dated last Thursday and addressed to Scheepers referring to a meeting between him, Buthane and Ledwaba on Tuesday, 28 February during which the Police agreed to providing security and protection to their clients who would be operating from the taxi rank. The recipient of the letter was informed that the applicant would resume duty on Sunday and protection would be appreciated. The letter was concluded with the request for Scheepers to arrange with his members to be physically visible at the taxi rank and to see law and order were maintained.
At the Police station Buthane was joined by LLB Beleggings BK Chairperson Job Mahlo and scores of affiliate members who first didn’t want to give in to the demands of Maila, who made an appearance around 14:00 that day, to go into a meeting with only two representatives. A scuffle ensued before a handful of representatives for the applicant was allowed in. Suddenly an otherwise deserted community service centre was abuzz as Police members filed in to restore calm. According to Mahlo they were later joined in the meeting by representatives of the respondents who reportedly refused to cooperate. As discussions proceeded inside, the rest of the group affiliated to the applicant disregarded a hint of a drizzle as they waited at the entrance on news about expected Police deployment. In the meantime the remaining taxi drivers and owners represented by the applicant were waiting at the rank, it was learnt.
Afterwards Polokwane Observer was informed that Maila had given his undertaking for deployment of members before leaving the station at around 15:00.
However, the visibility of a mere handful of Police vehicles in separate locations in distant surrounds prevented the members of LLB Belegging BK from moving in. It prompted Buthane to register the criminal matter with the Police on Sunday.
At the time of going to press Buthane said he had not received a case number as yet. He further explained that he was busy preparing papers to be served this week to seek an order from the court to compel Police members and leaders to enforce the earlier ruling.
By then none of his follow-up calls or text messages to Ledwaba’s cell phone had been responded to, he said. By Tuesday afternoon none of his clients had been back in operation on the line either, he indicated.
In comment provided by Mamphaswa Seabi, the Provincial Police reacted by saying the Police have done their job, that a case of contempt of court was opened, that three suspects were arrested and charged and that the case was withdrawn in court pending other legal processes.
Story: YOLANDE NEL