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Israeli families struck by Cape taxi strike



The holidays of two Israeli families visiting Cape Town turned into living nightmares when their vehicles were stoned in the chaos of the taxi strike that has gripped the Mother City since 3 August.

The first family, who asked not to be named, were driving on the N2 highway on 3 August, when a brick was thrown through their window, seriously injuring family member Sarah*, aged 23. Meanwhile, Yohanan Gehler, a lawyer from Bnei Brak, was visiting Cape Town as a guest of local rabbi Avi Shlomo. Driving on 4 August, his vehicle was pelted with stones and heavy metal objects, smashing every window. Miraculously, this family escaped unharmed.

The incidents were part of the widespread chaos that enveloped Cape Town after the taxi industry in the Western Cape went on strike on 3 August because of a new traffic bylaw that gives power to officers to impound vehicles rather than issue a fine.

Negotiations between the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the government over this issue deadlocked, taxis went on strike, and thousands of workers were left stranded and unable to get home. In some areas, sporadic and opportunistic violence erupted, and the Israelis happened to get caught in the thick of it.

The first Israeli family, which included parents and four children, “travelled on the N2 from Hermanus to Cape Town, with my husband driving a rental car”, says Sarah’s mother, Ariella*. “The traffic flowed, and the GPS said that in half an hour, we would reach our destination. Suddenly there was a traffic jam, and we saw taxis stopping on the other side of the highway. Someone threw a brick at our car. The window shattered. The brick broke on our daughter, who was sitting by the window. She lost consciousness.”

“They actually didn’t even know if she was alive or dead until they got to the hospital,” says a community member speaking on condition of anonymity, who knows the family. “Her younger sister was holding her head up and there was blood and glass everywhere. She had to have plastic surgery that day in hospital. She was badly injured. When she gets back to Israel, she will have to see a maxillofacial specialist.”

“A policeman helped us clear the way to the hospital,” says Ariella. “Sarah underwent surgery under general anaesthesia, which included surgery on her nose and jaw. She lost some teeth, and a few more were broken. We still don’t know how much damage there was to her jaw and teeth, and she will need aesthetic treatment.”

Local rabbi Pini Hecht says that “the owner of the hospital [that the family were taken to], who is Muslim, has a friend in the Jewish community. When he saw the family come in, he called this person, who reached out to me, and I reached out to the CSO [the Community Security Organisation, which also assists with medical emergencies in Cape Town], who were already assisting the family.”

From that moment on, the community rallied to support them. From bringing kosher food to the hospital amidst the chaos, to transporting the family back to Sea Point, to taking Sarah home in the middle of the night, and even finding a Hebrew-speaking trauma counsellor, nothing was too much.

“On Friday morning, I received a call from one of our rabbonim to ask if the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) would be able to assist in any way,” says Cape SAJBD Executive Director Daniel Bloch. “The father had to get medicine from the pharmacy and could speak only Hebrew. I immediately reached out to the South African Zionist Federation to connect with the Israeli embassy. I was also at Marais Road Shul that Friday evening, and spoke to the father, who was attending with his son. The father thanked the community for coming to his family’s aid, and said they were all doing well.” Hecht says the family will continue with their holiday.

Meanwhile, Shlomo was hosting Gehler in Cape Town, who is his brother-in-law’s brother-in-law. “My sister-in-law’s sister was together with her family of five in a rented vehicle,” says Shlomo. He wasn’t with them at the time. “They were coming to us for Shabbos, and they put our address into Waze because there was so much traffic – everyone was trying to get out and get home early on the main road, the R27. So, Waze rerouted them through a side road that went close to a township called Joe Slovo Park. When they got to that area, they were attacked. People threw heavy pieces of metal. They smashed all the windows of the car. The family made a U-turn, and went full speed out of there.”

By some miracle, they weren’t hurt, “but they were very traumatised, covered in glass”, says Shlomo. “And then they got stuck in crazy traffic. They couldn’t get to our house. An elderly couple saw them – the kids were sobbing – and offered them a ride. So the wife and the kids went in their car. The father was driving this car and could barely see through the window, the windscreen was so smashed. It was an hour till Shabbos, the traffic wasn’t moving at all, they went into a bus lane and got to us right before Shabbos.

“Apparently the rental car company said that 17 rental vehicles had been damaged. It was a very traumatic incident. They wanted to go back to Israel on Sunday right after Shabbos, but we convinced them to continue their trip. They’re going to the Garden Route.”

He says Gehler has stressed that besides the attack, people have been amazing – “from this elderly couple who picked up the family, to so many on the drive home stopping them and apologising on behalf of South Africa”. Gehler says he was blown away by the kindness of so many everyday South Africans who tried to help him. Even when he had to drive into oncoming traffic, everyone was like, “Go, go, go!” Everyone understood.

“Bystanders were amazing. Literally everyone stopped them and apologised, saying, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you.’ People were trying to help however they could.”

The Cape Town Jewish community also rallied to support the families even though the community was also reeling from the effects of the strike (see page 4).

* not their real names

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. yitzchak

    Aug 11, 2023 at 7:23 am

    Let’s connect the dots here.

    1) The taxi mayhem and disregard for rules of the road is legion even in Joburg.But in their schadenfreude the government sees an opportunity to break successful DA government in the Western Cape.Their fear to muscle in on the taxi syndicates(mafiosi) is a fear that goes back to Marikana,( and I am reminded of govt inaction in the Natal riots ). No policing, no army. The tough City council approach is no surprise considering the monopolizing of transport by SANTACO with destructiveness of rail and bus services so that there is no competition.That SANTACO spokesmen have distanced themselves from their drivers will not exonerate them.
    The only winner here is the RAF…no taxis, no accidents, no payouts!(Taxis are the leading driver of road accidents and injuries in SA)
    So all in all no tourism the big driver.

    2)The 2nd overt attack on the economy of the Western Cape by the ANC is the repudiation of the AGOA agreement with the USA
    which would hurt all the agricultural and vintner interests and exports to the USA further damaging the political and economic stability in the WC which is a thorn in the ANC side.

    Nothing will arise from the ashes here and the Cape of Good Hope will revert to being the Cape of Storms.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured.
    I had a trip to CT planned. It is now cancelled.

    What a nightmare

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