Taxis vs bakkies in city

2018-03-08 14:13
High school pupils were stranded at the taxi in town rank due to a dispute between Omalumi and Northern Suburbs Taxi Association taxi operators on Wednesday.

High school pupils were stranded at the taxi in town rank due to a dispute between Omalumi and Northern Suburbs Taxi Association taxi operators on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt )

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The sound of gunfire echoed through the CBD on Wednesday morning after a dispute between a local taxi association and high school pupils reached a boiling point.

The shots were fired by members of the Public Order Police Unit who were called in to calm the situation in Church Street outside the Market Square Taxi Rank, where hundreds of high school pupils refused to take taxis to school.

The fuming pupils, who had opted to gather outside the taxi rank and block the road, told The Witness that the private vehicles they preferred to use to get to school were turned away by security guards hired by the Northern Suburbs Taxi Association (NSTA) on Wednesday morning.

Last week The Witness reported how the pupils were left confused after they were told they could only use taxis registered under the NSTA taxi association to get to school from March 1.

It was alleged that the security guards hired by the association were patrolling the area to make sure that no bakkies or private taxis dropped off or picked up pupils.

Phendulani Ndlovu, spokesperson for the KZN Scholar Transport Association, said Omalume (bakkie drivers) were now only allowed to transport pupils at primary schools as of March 1.

“In 2016 we had a provincial meeting as people in the transport industry to try and find an orderly way to transport the pupils. It was agreed that pupils in Grade 8 to 12 should use public transport as the taxi industry also complained that they were losing customers.

“What is now happening is that Omalume transport the pupils from their townships and drop them off at the taxi rank but the pupils are refusing to use the public taxis and have even called their parents. They say they prefer Omalume because they are cheaper, and safer. We are not stopping anyone from using public taxis,” said Ndlovu yesterday.

A Northbury Park Secondary Grade 12 pupil said they were protesting against being forced by “gun-wielding security guards” to use public transport. “Why must we be forced to use taxis if we don’t want to? The taxis are unreliable, expensive and sometimes the taxi conductors refuse to give us our change. Our parents also don’t have taxi fare money on a daily basis for us,” she said.

A Silver Heights Secondary School Grade 11 pupil said throughout her school years, she has used Omalume to travel from her home in Mpophomeni to school.

“The taximen are being inconsiderate. My parents pay R750 per month for my transport. If I use public taxis they will have to budget at least R1 800 for me and my parents cannot afford that. The taxi people must just please let us be, please,” she pleaded.

Another pupil said even before March 1, they were sometimes forced to jump off their private transport kilometres away from their school because of the security guards.

“We are late at school most of the time because we sometimes have to walk because of the security guards. The teachers do not understand what we going through and they just shove us in detention”.

Another pupil alleged that it was Omalume who instructed them to wait at the taxi rank and not go to school.

Amidst the chaos, the police public order policing (POP) unit arrived and fired multiple shots, sending the pupils running for shelter at the municipal A.S Chetty Building and inside the taxi rank.

A Kharina Secondary School pupil was seen running away from an armed POP officer after she was caught taking a video of the police with her cell phone. The pupil was not harmed.

A concerned parent, Thando Mabi­zela, said her biggest concern was the safety of her children when using public taxis.

“The city is not a safe place for my children to be roaming around. There are vagrants lurking everywhere and the children could be assaulted or robbed,” said Mabizela.

Another parent, Khonzeka Malanga, said she feared allowing her children to use taxis as she could not hold anyone accountable for their safety.

Venesh Kistensamy, the spokesperson for the NSTA, refuted the allegations that their security guards had prevented Omalume from dropping off pupils at schools before March 1.

“We have permits to operate in this area and they [Omalume] don’t, we fall under the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and Omalume are illegal. They do not have permits to operate on the routes, they are an illegal entity,” he said.

Kistensamy said they tried to work with Omalume by allowing them to continue transporting the primary school pupils and tried to help them arrange permits.

“There are allegations levied against us claiming that we are bullies. We are not bullies, we are just doing our business,” said Kistensamy.

He said the NSTA has the capacity to transport all the pupils to school and ensure that they all arrive at school on time. He added that if the pupils were adamant that they do not want to go to school there was nothing the taxi operators could do.

“We are not going to give this up without a fight, this is our business and we will fight for our business,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese confirmed that there was a “squabble” outside the taxi rank and the POP used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. He said no one was injured or arrested.

A meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday between parents, the taxi association and Omalume.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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