Fikile Mbalula. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

It has been a week since the streets of Sandton were illuminated by blazing cars in the attacks by drivers of metered taxis on drivers for ride-hailing apps Uber and Taxify.

What action has Police Minister Fikile Mbalula taken to ensure the arrest of criminals who burn people alive in their cars? His news conference after the death of Lindelani Mashau, whose car was set alight by metered-taxi operators, was deeply disrespectful. Although a man had been burned alive in the streets, Mbalula talked about his favourite topic — celebrities — as he joked that Uber was great for struggling celebs who couldn’t afford fancy cars.

It seems the man who often uses the scatological hashtag "wanya tsotsi" is incapable of getting his police officers to arrest any taxi tsotsis, even when they pull passengers out of cars and beat Uber drivers in plain sight of the police.

How many more drivers must be petrol-bombed, burned with acid or shot before the minister decides to use his (mostly imaginary) crime-fighting superpowers?

His impotence is baffling: after his huge poke in the eye by Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe, taking on taxi thugs could be an easy and popular policing win for a man who loves the limelight. He could also dispel the popular notion that many metered taxis belong to police officers. So far, so ANC in 2017.

The other noted crime fighter, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba responded to requests for intervention in Sandton last week by claiming it was not in his jurisdiction. Are we really to believe he doesn’t have the power to send the metro police to the richest square mile in Africa? Is this the same mayor who dons a Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department uniform for his ride-alongs to flush out so-called "illegal foreigners"?

Then we were treated to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi’s ludicrous attempt at both-siderism, saying if the "war" didn’t stop, all taxis would be banned in disputed areas. We trust that he shows the same resolve next time minibus taxi wars result in passengers being killed.

"We can’t allow a state of lawlessness in SA, where people take the law into their own hands," he says, avoiding the fact that the reason for the "clashes" is that the app-drivers are tired of being attacked.

Men and women who are simply trying to make an honest living are facing assault, murder and the loss of their vehicles. For months, they have been shown that no one cares and no one will intervene. Eventually, the cost was too high and they fought back.

Men and women who are simply trying to make an honest living are facing assault, murder and the loss of their vehicles. For months, they have been shown that no one cares and no one will intervene

Passengers are now being caught in the crossfire with several accounts on Twitter about being shot at while using Uber, or being injured when pulled out of moving vehicles.

On Wednesday, the tension boiled over in Pretoria when Uber drivers allegedly retaliated by burning two metered taxis. The tit-for-tat cycle is now in full swing, with reports of groups of meter taxi drivers around Johannesburg’s Park Station stoning cars that they suspect belong to Uber.

One of my favourite drivers is from Protea in Soweto. When we met, he had been driving for a couple of months and was thrilled that after eight years of unemployment, he was able to provide for his family.

Then he fell victim to the common ploy when rivals call an app-service car and then hijack and rob the driver. They drove him to an ATM at gunpoint and emptied out his account. When I saw him next, he said: "So what do I do now? Do I let my children starve or do I let them be orphaned?"

We are dealing with the trickle-down economics of the mafia state. When an entire country has been captured and looted without a single arrest being made — despite shed-loads of documentary evidence — why should minor hoodlums relinquish whichever turf they claim as their own?

For some, it’s Sandton station, for others it’s a state-owned enterprise. Same same, but not different.

• Johnston is a Twitter debater @NicoleJohnston.

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