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GEORGE NEWS & VIDEO - A team of specialist detectives has been appointed to investigate the torching of four vehicles in the early hours of Thursday morning in separate incidents around Thembalethu.
Two of the vehicles belong to the municipal traffic services, one is a George Link employee' private vehicle and another a provincial traffic officer's private vehicle.
The torching of these vehicles follows a day of stand-offs between the taxi industry and local authorities which led to the local taxi industry suspending their services on Wednesday, leaving many commuters who are dependent on taxis stranded.
Southern Cape police spokesperson Malcolm Pojie said no one has been arrested and a case of malicious damage to property has been opened.
Chantel Edwards-Klose, George municipal spokesperson, confirmed that "two municipal traffic vehicles and a private vehicle were set alight last night. No persons were injured."
In a media alert sent on Thursday afternoon, Southern Cape police communications officer Capt Malcolm Pojie said preliminary investigations indicate that the torchings come after traffic officials in the area had embarked on a special operation targeting unroadworthy taxis.
Wednesday's stand-off started after five taxis were allegedly impounded by members of the Provincial Traffic ghost squad on Wednesday morning. The taxi industry accuses these members of unfair treatment and harassment.
Watch a video below:
Uncedo suspends services
In the morning taxis blocked the Go George bus hub in the CBD demanding that all impounded taxis be released. By 10:00 authorities managed to convince taxi drivers to move their vehicles and buses resumed their service in most areas, but the bus service was suspended later in the day as the drivers feared possible repercussions.
In the afternoon, leaders of the minibus taxi industry in George ordered all taxis to cease operating.
Xola Swapi of the George Community Forum accused the provincial government, traffic officials and George Municipality of working together to get the taxis off the road in order to make way for the roll-out of Go George in Thembalethu and surrounding areas.
Swapi, acting chairman of the forum, said taxi drivers and owners were being victimised.
"They say the taxis do not have permits. That is not true. This is all about Go George, but the minister (national transport minister Blade Nzimande) came and said all parties must negotiate until June. We want all taxis to be released and the ghost squad must go back to Cape Town. They are not from here."
He claimed about 40 taxis have been impounded this week, but this has been denied by insiders.
On Thursday the chairman of Uncedo in George, Welele Mbhudede, said the taxis will remain suspended until they have found answers from the local authorities as to why they keep on harassing them. "We want to know what have we done, because it seems like now it doesn't matter whether your taxi has a permit or not, they just take it. We have now run out of R7 000 that we keep on paying to release these impounded taxis," he said.
Police deployments in the area have also been intensified. The detective team is following several leads as part of their investigation.
The police appeal to anyone with information to contact the investigation officer, Sgt Jacobus Maton, on 073 046 8482 or Crime Stop on 08600 10111.
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