Almost 100 taxi owners have been arrested and 40 firearms recovered in a police operation at Blood River, near Dundee.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said the taxi owners, from different taxi associations, were arrested for illegal gathering after they blocked the road near Utrecht on Sunday.

Department of transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said these owners had started gathering about two weeks ago.

They were targeting long distance taxis travelling between Kwazulu-Natal and Johannesburg, stopping and checking permits and allegedly collecting money from those who did not have permits.

“What they are doing is illegal,” said Ncalane. “We have engaged with them, stating the fact that they do not have the right to take the law into their own hands.”

However, Kwazulu-Natal spokesman for the South African National Taxi Council Mandla Mzelemu said these taxi owners would not be doing this if authorities were doing it themselves.

He called on the department to step in before “things get out of hand. We can’t stop taxi owners from protecting their livelihoodâ”.

Mzelemu said the taxis targeted were those which did not have authority to operate along this route.

Ncalane hailed the arrests, saying taxi owners should not behave as law enforcement but should rather call on authorities to intervene and follow the legal route to resolve their issues.

‘Police must do their job’

Zwane said the firearms seized during the operation would be sent for ballistic testing to check if they were used in any crimes in the province.

Ncalane said transport, community safety and liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda would meet Santaco on Tuesday to discuss this and other issues affecting the taxi industry.

Mzelemu said they would use the opportunity to call on the MEC to provide a lasting solution to the use of the route by taxis without permits.

“Whatever they did, that which was wrong we condemn but we cannot stop legal operators from checking on the route.

“The police must do their job. Instead of us going there to stop and check vehicles the department must come up with a plan on how to address this.

“We can’t just have anyone loading passengers where they like, that’s why we have route permits,” he said.

The 94 accused are expected to appear in the Utrecht Magistrate’s Court soon.