Windhoek — Sixty-nine taxi drivers appeared before Magistrate Claudia Claasen in the Katutura Magistrate’s Court last Thursday.
The accused face counts of malicious damage to property, assaulting a police officer, resisting lawful arrest and public violence.Hundreds of taxi drivers went on strike last Tuesday protesting against the new hiked traffic fines.They clashed with the police while trying to stage an illegal march from Hans Dieterich Genscher Road in Donkerhoek, Katutura, to town. During the fracas, two police officers and two taxi drivers were injured.
Last Friday, two more suspects, Amutenya Shimi and Nikanor Amulungu, appeared in the same court charged with similar offences, in addition to robbery that was added to each of their charge sheets.This brings the number of arrested taxi drivers to 71.The accused were not asked to plead and their case was postponed to April 28 for further investigation and for the accused to acquire legal presentation.Bail was set at N$1000 each on condition that they appear in court on the appointed day and that they do not interfere with police investigations or witnesses.
Most of the accused decided to conduct their own defence, but Frans Nehale said he would hire a lawyer.One taxi driver complained he did not understand why he was arrested in Okuryangava, when he was nowhere near the taxi riot.When one of them was asked to decide whether he would conduct his own defence, or make use of government legal aid or a private lawyer, he said he did not know what he was accused of, therefore he could not choose.
Another taxi driver asked if their bail could be reduced to N$500, but State prosecutor Roxzaan Witbooi asked that the bail remain at N$1000 because of the seriousness of the alleged crime, saying that people’s lives were endangered because of public violence. The bail amount was upheld.Jerobeam Shipepe, one of the leaders of the taxi drivers, said they were promised that the police would give them feedback on the traffic fines within seven days.”We won’t stop until we succeed,” he said.
Shipepe claimed that Samuel Hoebeb, Khomas Regional Commissioner, had promised them last Tuesday that if they removed their cars from the open field between Donkerhoek and Lafrenz Touwnship, where they were gathered, he would release those arrested.”He betrayed us.”Shipepe said they were going to hold meetings to see how they could help those who could not afford bail money.A few drivers and family came to the Katutura Magistrate’s Court to provide moral support, but the number was a far cry from the more than 400 taxi drivers who had congregated in protest at Donkerhoek.”We feel very bad that the others are not here. Some of them are not serious,” Shipepe said.
John Werner claimed that some of those who were arrested were not taxi drivers and did not even have a driver’s licence.”They were just witnesses,” he said, charging that some of the accused were arrested at Okahandja Park, near Namibia Breweries in the Northern Industrial Area.”This has become a dictator government. We voted for Swapo and this is what we get,” Werner fumed.