AmaBhungane can reveal that notorious Eastern Cape taxi boss Bonke Makalala – currently facing a string of charges in the Western Cape, including murder, attempted murder and impersonating a police officer – played a key role in attempts by taxi formations to force long distance bus operators to stop competing with minibus taxis.

This throws a new light on claims made under oath by SAPS provincial commanders and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) that they could find no evidence that repeated attacks on Intercape buses was part of an organised crime campaign to intimidate Intercape and other bus operators.

This despite Intercape previously putting up evidence showing that it was Makalala who formally presented the taxi bosses’ demands at a meeting with bus operators in March 2022, pushing them to raise their prices and deliver other concessions in order to ‘normalise’ the situation and bring the violence and intimidation to an end.

AmaBhungane has previously reported on how the Eastern Cape high court skewered police over their failure to investigate attacks on Intercape buses as organised crime.

The court ordered the police to conduct a proper investigation, overseen by the court and the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate (ID).

Instead of latching onto the evidence provided by Intercape – including on Makalala’s role – both SAPS and the NPA have opted to appeal the ruling. (Watch our video on the case here.)

Perhaps it was not clear to the police and NPA just who Makalala was. That excuse is no longer tenable, if it ever was.   

In the last months, Makalala has been in and out of three Western Cape magistrate’s courts (Wynberg, Blue Downs and Simon’s Town) on separate charges of impersonating a police officer, murder, two attempted murders and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.

Makalala, who hails from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, was arrested in Pretoria in December last year on alleged crimes dating back to 2018 and 2019 and is currently in custody pending the outcome of a bail application amid allegations he attempted to bribe prison officials while in custody in Malmesbury. 

Makalala faces one count of the murder of a man in Nyanga on 13 December 2019 and the attempted murder of a woman and a child. He also faces charges of illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition that date back to 2018, as well as similar charges flowing from the recovery of a pistol and ammunition during his arrest in Pretoria.

He has proclaimed his innocence on all counts.

But he also features prominently in the series of cases brought by Intercape to try to stop the attacks on buses and the harassment of their staff and passengers.

According to the court papers, on 28 March 2022 Intercape CEO Johann Ferreira, alongside other long distance bus operators, attended a meeting in East London with representatives of various taxi associations from the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA), the Cape Organisation for the Democratic Taxi Association (CODETA), UNCEDO and the Gauteng Taxi Association.

Ferreira states under oath that “at this meeting, the representatives of the long-distance bus operators were brazenly informed by the taxi representatives that the only way to resolve the issues between the parties (i.e. to stop the violence) was for the long-distance bus operators to agree to certain terms and conditions… [the] meeting was led by a man named Bonke Makalaia, who is affiliated with CATA.”

Ferreira alleges Makalala wrote instructions on a whiteboard detailing how the bus companies should inflate their prices.

The terms Makalala wanted long distance bus operators to adhere to included increasing their ticket price to R1000.00, limiting the number of buses per day, and indicating that bus operators may no longer stop in a number of towns in the Eastern Cape, specifically iDutywa. Butterworth, Ngcobo, Tsomo, Cofimvaba, Gcuwa and Nqamakwe.

Ferreira refused to agree to the terms set out by the taxi associations.

In his affidavit he said a photograph of Makalala presenting the demands and other photographs taken during this meeting were provided to both the SAPS and the DPCI, as was a recording of the meeting.

Ferreira said that in April 2022 he agreed to meet with one of those present at the East London meeting – a certain “Hamilton”, who was representing the Gauteng Taxi Association

Makalala also joined this meeting at Menlyn Main, Pretoria, where Ferreira alleges he was told that if Intercape paid an undisclosed sum of money, the restrictions placed on them by taxi associations would be lifted. Later, at another meeting where Makalala was not present, a figure of R5-million was mentioned, claims Ferreira.

Intercape refused to buckle, but owing to the violence was forced to stop operating in the towns designated “no-go zones” by the taxi bosses.

Ferreira told the court that “the criminals who are behind these attacks are profiting from their reign of terror… first, by demanding extortion payments from long-distance bus companies against the threat of ongoing violent attacks; and second, by preventing long-distance bus companies from operating in certain areas and thereby eliminating any competition for taxi associations within the long-distance transport industry.”

According to Ferreira, in Makalala’s case the scheme went even further.

He points out that in the second half of 2022, Makalala seized the opportunity presented by the “no-go zones” to start his own long-distance bus company servicing these areas: Makalala Trans.

Makalala brought in his own buses to operate in hotspot areas where Intercape had halted operations.

Ferreira notes that “this appears to represent the next step in the stratagem of those behind the acts of violence; to fill the void created by their campaign of violence with their own services.”

According to the Makalala Trans web page, Makalala currently owns 17 taxis and 4 buses, and has 42 employees. The buses operate mainly between Cape Town and Mthatha, with the company office in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

Ferreira claims that “Makalala Trans is operating at least some of its buses without valid operating licences. Two Makalala Trans buses were impounded on 30 July 2022 and 2 December 2022. These impoundments, however, were immediately followed with what appear to be retaliatory attacks on Intercape…

“These attacks also make it clear that Makalala Trans strategy of violence will not only be implemented to establish itself in the market, but will be used to squash any opposition and remove any competition,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira notes taxi operators set up a WhatsApp chat group that included representatives of the bus companies to monitor compliance with their demands.

They also circulated details of a bank account into which the long-distance bus operators were required to make “donations” towards the travel costs of the taxi representatives. “I suspect that this is the same account that would be used by taxi representatives to receive any payment of extortion money from bus operators,” Ferreira observed.

He argues that while it was hard to link the taxi bosses directly to the multiple incidents of violence on the ground, viewed in the broader context of demands from the taxi associations the attacks constituted elements of a “pattern of racketeering activity” under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA).

Makalala’s conduct in particular, Ferreira alleges, appears to fit the description of an offence under POCA in that he appeared to have received benefits “derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity”.

This was either directly through the protection money paid via “donations” by bus operators or indirectly through the proceeds generated by his own bus business, “which he obtained by using violence to push other operators (including Intercape) out of certain areas in order to create a monopoly for his services”.

Although Intercape is still struggling to get SAPS provincial commissioners to investigate the bus attacks as organised crime, there does appear to be increased national focus on Makalala as a significant figure in a wider criminal ecosystem.

Police said his arrest in Pretoria on 9 December 2023 came as the result of a joint operation between the Western Cape provincial detectives, Pretoria National Intervention Unit, Eastern Cape and Head Office Crime Intelligence.

In a speech on 16 February this year unveiling the latest quarterly crime statistics, police minister Bheki Cele also appeared to link Makalala indirectly to extortion in the Western Cape.

In a section of his speech titled “Construction Mafia,” Cele stated that “the Western Cape province has also made significant progress in dismantling and taking down those behind the 30% construction mafia grouping where projects were delayed as a result of acts of criminality. Amongst the many arrested include the Kingpins which include Ralph Stanfield and his wife Nicole Johnson and three others.”

Under the same heading, Cele went on to refer to the arrest of Makalala “for taxi violence related activities”.

Cele did not indicate why he placed Makalala in this context, and amaBhungane has no independent information linking him to the so-called “construction mafia”.

Meanwhile, the trail of bodies emerging in Makalala’s wake has grown, even while he is behind bars.

The charge of impersonating a police officer stems from an investigation prompted by a video that emerged online showing Makalala driving a marked police van and using its built-in loudhailer.

Two Nyanga based police officers were arrested in December for allegedly allowing Makalala to make unauthorised use of a state vehicle. Both were released on bail.

One of the two was killed in a shooting on the evening of 25 February in the Masiphumelele informal settlement on the South Peninsula. Gunmen opened fire, killing two people, including the police constable, and seriously injuring two others.  The motive for the shooting remains unclear, but there has been one unconfirmed report that the policeman was due to testify against Makalala.

The post Intercape attacks: the ‘murderous’ taxi boss at the centre of the long distance bus extortion saga appeared first on amaBhungane.

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