Commuters pulled off buses, motorists intimidated as Santaco drivers protest against govt relief

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An empty taxi rank as drivers affiliated to the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) protested against what it believes to be insufficient government relief offered to the industry.
An empty taxi rank as drivers affiliated to the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) protested against what it believes to be insufficient government relief offered to the industry.
Azarrah Karrim, News24
  • The SA National Taxi Council condemned the intimidation of commuters and motorists.
  • Transport ministry spokesperson Ayanda-Allie Paine said the shutdown was premature.
  • Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula admitted the decision to avail R1.135 billion to the industry as relief support was "too little".

Several Gauteng roads were blockaded on Monday as taxi drivers affiliated to the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) protested against what it believes to be insufficient government relief offered to the industry.

The Mabopane highway and R55 were among the roads that were blockaded.

The council is demanding R20 000 per vehicle.

Speaking in an interview on Radio 702, Santaco spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa condemned the reported intimidation of motorists and commuters. There were reports that commuters were pulled off buses.

Molelekwa said representatives were sent to "engage with the leadership" in the province as "this is not helping, this is not how you express dissatisfaction".

He said taking action was "the last thing we wanted to do", but added that since the start of the lockdown, the industry has "literally been subsidising the commuter".

"This is an industry that is not subsidised by government," he said.

"Operators have not been making money. They have been struggling to make just the basic income for petrol. If there's no serious intervention as we speak, in the next six to eight months at least 45% of taxi operators are going to lose their vehicles."

Taxi operators initially mandated Santaco to negotiate for about R20 000 per taxi, but acknowledged this could "probably be too much". He added that R5 000, however, was "far" from an acceptable offer.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who urged taxi associations to not shut down, on Saturday admitted the decision to avail R1.135 billion to the industry as relief support was "too little" to compensate for the lockdown.

Government, however, did not have more money to give, he said.

The intention is that the relief fund will be handed to the South African Revenue Service to distribute to taxi operators instead of to the associations.

This, Molelekwa said, would "conflate the process", adding that by the time this "tedious" action was done "vehicles would have been repossessed".

Santaco was scheduled to meet with the minister on Wednesday.

Mbalula appealed to taxis to continue to operate as "our economy is falling apart".

The shutdown would be "rather unfortunate and counterproductive" which would “not only negatively affect the working class, but will worsen the devastation of the industry", Mbalula said following a meeting over the weekend with MECs, executive mayors of eThekwini and Ekurhuleni, as well as mayoral committee members from the Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros.

Transport ministry spokesperson Ayanda-Allie Paine told Radio 702 that the shutdown was premature and counter-productive and that the action was "unbecoming" as the association has "always enjoyed an audience with the minister".

The action has disadvantaged both the industry and commuters who are struggling to get to work, she said.

A national indaba, which would have culminated in the formalisation of the taxi industry, was planned for this year. The coronavirus, however, "interrupted" this process, she added.

According to Paine, the government could not subsidise that which it did not regulate.

Meanwhile South African National Civic Organization in Gauteng said it “vehemently supports” the shutdown.

“We all know and can bear testimony that the taxi industry is the most affected industry by Covid 19. They agreed to 70% [capacity as part of the] Covid-19 public transport regulations before it became fashionable. Now that there is money, they are subjected to peanuts,” it said in a statement.

“Sanco strongly urges the minister to approach treasury to think twice and do the honourable and be fair to Santaco. This pandemic hit every industry regardless of race.”

It vowed to “extend the shutdown” until government listens.

“We urge communities to pay solidarity to one of our own. The taxi industry belongs to us; we rely on it for our daily activities. It is our [civic] duty to defend them.”

Tshwane Metro Police Department spokesperson Isaac Mahamba said all hotspot areas were being monitored.

According to an update issued shortly before 09:00, he confirmed the affected roads to be Ruth First towards the Mabopane highway, Transfer and Aubrey Matlala roads in Soshanguve, the R55 towards the N14 in Olivenhoutbosch, WF Nkomo Street and Kalafong Road in Atteridgeville as well as  Rebecca Street towards Vom Hagen Street in Pretoria West.

“[The] CBD and Mamelodi are quiet for now,” he said.

- Compiled by Tammy Petersen

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