The Post

Transport mafia targets shuttle operators


SHUTTLE operators at King Shaka International Airport claim that they face daily threats, intimidation and harassment from the “transport mafia” – a local syndicate that wants a monopoly over the “lucrative” airport routes.

Speaking to the POST, drivers said they believed the murder of Sagren Kaniappen was linked to the ongoing threats over the routes.

Kaniappen, 59, a shuttle operator, left his home in Phoenix, to fetch a passenger from the airport on the morning of November 24. He was meant to drop the passenger off in Hillcrest and return home.

His family reported him missing at the Phoenix police station and with the assistance of Renegade Search and Rescue, they circulated his picture on social media, asking people to be on the look-out for him. Kaniappen’s vehicle was found in Cato Manor later that day.

His family also searched hospitals and mortuaries in the hope of finding him.

Last Wednesday, his body was found down an embankment in Tea Estate, Verulam, by police. His body had been wrapped in a white sack and was in a state of decomposition.

The shuttle operators, who did not want to be named as they feared victimisation, described the business as “cut throat”.

One operator said people preferred taking a shuttle because they felt it was safer: “When it comes to e-hailing services and taxis, people are more wary because of the high accident rate and hijackings.”

The operator said the airport route was lucrative because there was always foot traffic.

“We refer to this group as the transport mafia.

“They threaten, intimidate and harass us shuttle drivers so that we get scared and stop working the route. The reality for many of us is that when we pick up passengers we don’t know if we will return home to our families.”

The operator said he knew Kaniappen whose murder underlined the threat faced by the shuttle operators at the airport.

“Passengers loved travelling with him because he was trustworthy and it was a safe mode of transport. There is a strong possibility that he was killed because of his job.”

Another operator said the rivalry in the business was escalating and getting dangerous.

“We are competing with e-hailing services and taxis for business. Intimidation is rife. There are some operators that have closed down their businesses because of the harassment and threats. We are concerned about our safety but we also need to work to put food on the table. It’s a huge risk that we take every day.”

Another operator said he dealt with intimidation almost daily.

“You need a thick skin to work in this industry. We urgently need regulation of the industry. There is no regulation or a body that oversees the running of what we do. This attracts all sorts of people to the industry including criminals.”

A police source, who has been investigating violence related to taxis and e-hailing services, confirmed there was rivalry over routes.

“Yes, there is a transport mafia that likes to control and dictate who uses what routes.

“In some instances, people operating these businesses pay a tax every month to this mafia so that they can operate without fear.”

He said the intimidation and harassment could turn deadly if the matter was not addressed by the authorities.

Lieutenant Colonel Nqobile Gwala, a provincial police spokesperson, said the Verulam SAPS was investigating a case of murder with regard to Kaniappen’s death.

His family declined to comment.

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African News Agency