Brits patrollie: Taxi drivers on the prowl for addicts
They won't stop until they've found the kingpin, but the addicts say beating them won't stop their addiction
A gang of balaclava-wearing taxi drivers are prowling the streets of Brits, North West for nyaope dealers and addicts – on whom they pounce with sjamboks to “beat the addiction” out of the boys.
Drug addicts, who say they want to stop but can’t, told Times Select they live in fear, but the taxi drivers, who were arrested last week for their vigilante activities, are determined to not stop until they have tracked down the kingpin dealer known only as “Bon Jovi”.
On Wednesday, Brits police arrested 16 taxi drivers, and the following day a taxi strike in solidarity with their detained comrades shut down the area. The group was eventually released and not charged.
Mokgadi Mokwena, who is accused of mobilising the taxi drivers, said he would do it again.
Having lunch at a food stall outside the empty Bapong Taxi Association offices, he told Times Select the addicts harassed their customers and their mothers and sisters – but the police did nothing.
“It’s sickening that the police want to act like they are doing their job after the damage was done in front of them. Where are they when these boys rob our mothers, intimidate and harass our sisters and children? How long must we sit and watch them bribe the police and get away with things?
“We are running a business and it does not sit well with us that our customers are always scared. They do their nonsense everywhere and it’s disgusting. They steal from our homes at night, but you won’t see the police arresting them,” said Mokwena.
Sello Tabane, 29, a self-confessed nyaope addict, said he had been chased out of town by the taxi drivers.
“I used to hang and hustle in town (Brits) but they chased us out. Me and the others had left and came to Bapong township, but this did not stop them from coming for us. They found me cleaning in my neighbour’s yard and they started chasing me. I tried to outrun them but I could not. They came in about seven taxis, wearing balaclavas, and sjambokked everyone on their way,” said Tabane.
He said he was innocent of committing any crimes.
“My sister, all I do is work. I earn my money. This victimisation is not on. I did not choose this life, it chose me. When I lost all the elders in the family I almost lost my mind, that’s when my friend introduced me to nyaope. I think he was consoling me, I don’t blame him. He told me it would numb out everything.”
He said some of his friends who tried to hide in their neighbours’ homes were followed into those houses.
“They are out of control, they did not care whether it was not our home, they broke things and did not apologise.”
Ofentse Mahlangu, 26, who is also an addict, said he feared the taxi drivers.
“These guys don’t care. It’s always our fault, they hate us. I don’t want to live like this, I want to stop but I can’t. How is beating us going to make things better? Just because they have physical power and guns they think they can do as they please. We have rights, too, this is not acceptable. What if I died while they beat me up?” said Mahlangu.
Lebo Mothusi said her home was vandalised during a raid by taxi drivers.
“We are never going to be free if we continue this way. The law must be respected and people’s homes are private. If they really wanted to solve crime, they would work with the police and not do their own things. They came in here, running with no regard and started tossing and throwing things on the floor, our vegetables, a set of drawers broke, cooking oil was spilled on the floor, it was a mess,” said Mothusi.
The group of released taxi drivers stood and caucused outside the police station on Friday morning.
They were determined to continue fighting the “Russian boys”, as they referred to the drug dealers.
They said their operation started mid-March and they would not stop now.
“They can arrest us if it makes them happy. They found us at a house of the man we suspect to be the supplier. We did not break any homes, steal, burn cars or beat up anyone. We slept in cold cells, for what? Because they can’t even tell us the charge,” said taxi driver Monky Baloyi.
Another driver, Jerry Ramoutsi, said the police station commander called them names such as “marete”, which means “penis” in Setswana.
“We are looking for the kingpin (whose street name is ‘Bon Jovi’). We know he gets away with things because he buys the police lunch and bribes them. If we get him, we will uproot the problem. We wanted to open a case of unlawful arrest but the station commander declined. He said there is nothing we can do. He called us names,” said Ramoutsi.
He said residents initially supported their actions, “but now they have changed”.
“We are planning a shutdown. They [drug addicts] inject themselves on their private parts, they stink, they steal, they really don’t care.”
A police officer, who is also an active member of the community, said it was frustrating working with taxi drivers because they did not understand the implications of their actions.
“They threaten us for defending the law. Taking matter into one’s own hands has never been the solution. There are processes that need to be observed in order to ensure that justice is served, and this is not it,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.
“They are stubborn and ignorant of the law.”