Guest Column

Taxi owners aren't doin' it for themselves

2017-06-28 09:24

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Msizi Zondi

On Thursday, the 15th of June 2017, traffic flow yet again came to a standstill on some of Gauteng’s busy highways including N1, N2 and N12 as another taxi industry strike kicked off under the banner of the South African National Taxi Assocition (Santaco).

This strike was the second round in less than a month as taxi commuters were also left stranded in some parts of Durban when the taxi owners embarked on a protest directed at Toyota in Prospection - one of Toyota’s plants in Isipingo, South of Durban.

Amongst some of their grievances is what they call the exorbitant prices of the popular Toyota Quantum minibuses. They claim that when it was introduced, it was fully imported with a price of R220 000 but now it has escalated to R450 000 before interest despite being locally produced, a price that they believe is way too expensive.

Secondly, they accused the insurance companies of increasing the monthly premiums paid by taxi owners.

Thirdly, they are accusing the local banks and the taxi finance company SA Taxi Finance of charging them high interest rates which forces them to pay monthly instalments that are even more than their monthly profit, something which they claim is killing their business.

The further accuse the department of transport of dragging its feet when issuing work permits, which lead to their cars being impounded.  

Allegations of violence and assault of commuters

As expected, the latest taxi strike was characterised by allegations of assault of commuters who were using other transport and allegations of truck hijackings that were then used to blockade the roads. Some of the taxi drivers claim they were forced to hand over the keys at gunpoint.

But as usual, the taxi industry distanced itself from those allegations and according to their association they had a very ‘peaceful’ protest.

As if that was not enough, Santaco vowed that their protests in Durban and Johannesburg was nothing as they threatened to shut down the country in a protest that will take three days from Wednesday, 12 July to Friday, 14 July. According to the association the whole taxi industry nationally will down tools.

The taxi industry is often perceived as the only industry that is owned or controlled by Africans – even though this is still debatable. That is because you cannot claim to be in control of any sector if you do not control every strategic aspect of that sector.

The same taxi industry that is perceived to be belonging to Africans, is notorious for many negative things that are associated with it, which include violence, assassinations linked to taxi route squabbles, bad driving and ignorance of road rules, arrogance of taxi drivers and their assistants, disrespect for commuters and many other things that portray the industry as being disorganised.

Taxi owners need to understand that when one chooses to start a business, you are not forced at gunpoint to do so, but you are doing it for yourself. Like all other businesses an entrepreneur needs capital and to make sure that the profit he makes can withstand the monthly expenses of running a business in order to avoid making a loss.

Another thing, which seems like many people in the taxi industry do not even understand, is that in business you will always face competition, which means you have to always come up with strategies of keeping and attracting new customers – without using violence. How many of them understand that customers must be respected?

Another perfect example of this is the financial struggle that is currently being faced by many furniture shops battling to stay afloat amid a decline in profit, which has led to many closing down across the country.

These shops, mostly situated in several cities and shopping centres, were providing the only source of income for many families. One of the reasons for their closure is believed to be the competition from mostly Chinese shops who are offering goods at cheaper prices. But despite that there has never been even a single protest or act of violence by the owners, managers or employees of the furniture shops that is directed to their competitors.

Why are they not doing it for themselves?

Since it is huge, why is the taxi industry not coming together to establish their own insurance company, where it will pay premiums they believe are fair? Why are taxi owners not putting their money together to create a financial structure that will loan it money to buy minibuses, where they will be charged the amount that they would like to pay?

If Toyota Quantums are too expensive, is Toyota the only company that can produce minibuses? Why is the industry not negotiating with other car manufactures for ‘reasonable’ prices – and supporting those companies by buying from them? There is no car manufacturer – including Toyota – that has a monopoly over the production of minibuses.

Africans, including taxi drivers, have a big advantage of buying power because of their majority. This means that they can create businesses with huge success as long as they will back them. In that way they can collapse many businesses if they withdraw their support for them. But the problem with it (buying power) is that it cannot work for people who are not even aware that they are holding it and are not united – people who only know that they have to meet when they have to protest and blockade the roads.

When are they meeting in boardrooms to strategise on how to move the business forward?

Africans have a tendency of always whining about bad treatment

Africans have this tendency of always whining about bad treatment they receive from big businesses but yet they are the ones who run to these big companies for services. What kind of a businessman brings operations to a standstill and loses profit to go and protest on the door steps of another business?

In other words, they are trying to tell the whole world that they are running out of ideas of running their business. Then why are they not pulling the brakes and stepping aside to give others with better ideas a chance? They must stop embarrassing themselves and take full control of the taxi industry. 

- Msizi Zondi is a content producer, journalist and a columnist for iZindaba24. He enjoys writing columns about various issues and current affairs affecting the country. 

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