Taxi assassinations are on the rise in South Africa, as rivalries between minibus taxi associations fuel violence.

On 15 May 2018, Johnson Ndaka, chairman of the Kempton Park Taxi Association (KETA), was assassinated in his driveway. He was shot 29 times as he was returning home from lunch with his wife and daughter, both of whom witnessed his gruesome killing. His wife was also shot, but survived after pretending to be dead.1 Three days previously, another KETA member, Jacob Thomas, was also killed by a hail of bullets while in his car. In all, six members of this taxi association were assassinated during the first half of 2018 alone, bringing the total to more than 50 since 2007.2 The Assassination Witness database shows that there were 127 taxi-related hits across South Africa in 2018, 48 of which occurred in Gauteng.

The mass taxi transport industry in South Africa has its origins as a grey market service providing transport and economic opportunities to black South Africans during the apartheid regime.3 Since the country’s democratic transition in the 1990s, the industry has been regulated and it remains the core means of transport for the country’s workforce: 69% of South African households commute by taxi. The industry also employs hundreds of thousands.4 However, since it has its origins as a grey market service, regulation has never been entirely effective at bringing the sector under the rule of law. The industry has grown without enforced state-led constraints and has long been notorious for its violence.5 Over the years, however, the nature of this violence has changed from involving predominantly shoot-outs at taxi ranks to more targeted violence in the form of taxi ‘hits’, primarily motivated by competition over taxi routes or leadership battles within taxi associations. Assassinations – whether contracted for political, social or economic gain – have an extremely detrimental impact on South Africa’s ongoing democratic project and often-fragile institutions, creating fear, uncertainty and instability.

The homicide statistics kept by the South African Police Service are not disaggregated by motive of the killing or other characteristics, making it difficult to measure the scale and scope of targeted violence. However, the GI-TOC’s ongoing assassination monitoring project, Assassination Witness,6 is able to shed some light on the trends and regional dynamics in taxi-related assassinations, and contextualize the violence in this industry along with other types of targeted assassinations in South Africa.

Assassination Witness has compiled a database of hits and attempted hits in South Africa over the period 2000 to 2018 (see Figure 2). The sample draws on the resources of a database, Sabinet, which provides access to local, regional and national news content published in print media, supplemented with searches of online news sources.7 All articles are reviewed, and assassinations recorded with details such as the date, location, information about the victim and the category of assassination. (Four categories were used to subdivide recorded hits: personal, such as cases involving infidelity or attempts to obtain life insurance payouts; political, such as those targeting individuals holding public office; organized crime, where violence is used for economic outcomes, including within criminal markets; and taxi- related hits.) The taxi industry merited its own category because of the sheer prevalence of targeted killings in this business.8

Taxi hits by province, South Africa (2000–2018)

Figure 2 Taxi hits by province, South Africa (2000–2018)

Breakdown of assassinations by type, 2000–2018

Figure 3 Breakdown of assassinations by type, 2000–2018

Taxi-related incidents are by far the largest contributor to assassination trends in South Africa during the period under review (see Figure 3). Although there have been some spikes in taxi hits over the data period (in 2001 and 2007), since 2016 they have reached unprecedented levels and have continued to grow sharply, reaching a high of 127 hits in 2018.

As the heat maps provided show (Figure 4), this most recent rise in taxi-related hits has been concentrated in four provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Western Cape (by order of severity). These provinces also have the highest overall recordings of assassinations across all categories.

Taxi-related assassinations by province

Figure 4 Taxi-related assassinations by province

There are distinct provincial characteristics: taxi assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal remain consistently high throughout the data period; by contrast, the Eastern Cape experienced a drastic increase from 2015 to 2017 and then declined again in 2018; Gauteng has seen an increase since 2012 but the number of hits remained below 16 until 2018, when it reached a record high of 48, the highest count of any category in any province in our dataset. However, increases in taxi-related assassinations occurred across almost all provinces, suggesting that some taxi incidents occurring in one province may be linked to disputes that began in other provinces. This is consistent with disputes over long-distance taxi routes.

We can look to Gauteng as a specific case for context- ualizing this trend. The drastic increase in violence in 2018 can be connected to route disputes between rival taxi associations – including KETA and its competitors. There have also been increased attempts by government to find new ways to regulate and transform the transport industry. In 2010, the City of Johannesburg introduced a new bus rapid transport system and tried to incentivize taxi operators to trade taxi licences and routes for shares in the bus companies. This was met with multiple complications, including increased competition on routes and even more violence.9 Adding to the complexity of the situation, at the same time that taxi operators were entering the bus industry, key leaders of Johannesburg gangs also started to become increasingly involved in the taxi industry, primarily to transport drugs and launder money, a modus operandi that is common throughout the country.

Interviews conducted in October 2019 reveal that taxi violence was particularly bad in Soweto, Alexandra, Midrand and Johannesburg city centre. The disputes have been exacerbated by an increase in access to firearms. According to interviewees, small private security companies that had lost contracts in recent years and had gone bankrupt, or were on the verge of bankruptcy, have started to sell their firearms to the taxi industry, thereby fuelling the taxi wars.10

In response to spates of taxi violence, the MEC (Member of the Executive Council) of Roads and Transport for Gauteng closed several routes and taxi ranks in 2018 and 2019. However, according to our database (which has continued to document hits throughout 2019), these closures have not had the intended impact of reducing violence. Although our preliminary findings for January to June 2019 do show a slight decline, preliminary mid-year findings are generally lower than half of the final year count. Therefore, the preliminary decrease needs to be read with caution.

By contrast, similar action taken in March 2018 by Police Minister Bheki Cele to close key disputed routes and taxi ranks in Mthatha,11 in the Eastern Cape, has been lauded as creating peace between rival taxi associations.12 This came after several peace agreements facilitated by the provincial government failed to curb killings of passengers, drivers and taxi owners.13 On 6 April 2019, MEC Weziwe Tikana said there had been no attacks on members of the taxi industry since the route closures. Our database, by comparison, shows that although the route closure did not end taxi hits in the area, it did result in a significant decrease: only nine hits were recorded for the province between April and December 2018. Cele reopened two taxi ranks in April 2019 after the warring associations signed a peace agreement.14

In response to continued violence in Gauteng, the province’s premier, David Makhura, established the Commission of Inquiry into Minibus Taxi-Type Service Violence, Fatalities and Instability in Gauteng, in Sept- ember 2019.15 The commission is set to investigate the underlying causes and the people behind the ongoing killings in the industry. Makhura explained that he was concerned the violence in the taxi business would worsen, despite efforts by law enforcement and government.16

The impact of these assassinations is far-reaching and their steady increase is worrying. Targeted killings within South Africa’s taxi industry have been a major stimulus for violence elsewhere,17 and have been connected to violence in other parts of the criminal underworld.18 As the contrasts between Gauteng and the Eastern Cape suggest, although the rise may be a widespread trend, it is subject to particular, localized dynamics.


  1. Pertunia Mafokwane, Wife plays dead as killers shoot taxi boss – Daughter watches as dad is shot 29 times, Sowetan, 18 May 2018,

  2. Pertunia Mafokwane, Association ‘lost 50 men to taxi war’, Press Reader, 12 October 2018,

  3. When referring to the taxi industry in South Africa, the common understanding is mass public transport using 16-seater minibuses. The most commonly used vehicle today is the Toyota Quantum. 

  4. See

  5. Jackie Dugard, From low intensity war to mafia war: Taxi violence in South Africa (1987–2000), Violence and Transition Series, Vol. 4, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2001,

  6. See Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime,

  7. The data in the Assassinations Witness database is constantly under review and presents an evolving picture of the nature of assassinations in South Africa. New information may be reported, or may come to light in investigations and trials, which may cause an incident to be re-classified and re-assessed. 

  8. For more details on the methodology and its limitations, see our 2017 report,

  9. For more on this, see

  10. Interviews, Johannesburg, October 2019. 

  11. Mbulelo Sisulu, Minister intervenes in Mthatha taxi violence, Elitsha, 28 March 2018,

  12. Mbulelo Sisulu, Lockdown keeps the peace in Mthatha taxi turf war, Elitsha, 23 May 2018,

  13. Mbulelo Sisulu, Minister intervenes in Mthatha taxi violence, Elitsha, 28 March 2018,

  14. Rahil Sain, MEC announces relaxation of route closures following EC taxi violence, IOL, 6 April 2019,

  15. The commission has been afforded six months to inquire, investigate, make findings, report on and make recommendations on the following: 1) The underlying reasons for the recurring conflict, violence, fatalities and instability within the minibus taxi-type service industry within Gauteng; 2) The activities of operators, legal and illegal, as well as any other group or person that contributes to the recurring conflict, violence, fatalities and instability; 3) The provision of minibus taxi transport services authorized by both interchange-based and direct route-based permits and licences; 4) How the minibus taxi business model, including the formation and management of minibus taxi associations, contributes to the recurring conflict, violence fatalities and instability; see

  16. See

  17. Mark Shaw and Kim Thomas, The commercialization of assassination: ‘Hits’ and contract killing in South Africa, 2000–2015, African Affairs, 2016, 1–24 doi:10.1093/afraf/adw050. 

  18. See the October 2019 edition of the Risk Bulletin, which details how disputes between members of the taxi industry and heroin dealers in Pretoria were linked to the outbreak of xenophobic rioting in August 2019: