'Our lives will be put at risk': Joburg taxi drivers not celebrating life without masks

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Some taxi operators at the Baragwanath Taxi Rank believe Covid-19 is still around and people should keep wearing masks.
Some taxi operators at the Baragwanath Taxi Rank believe Covid-19 is still around and people should keep wearing masks.
Ntwaagae Seleka
  • Not everyone was happy about the government's scrapping of regulations on mask-wearing.
  • Taxi operators in Johannesburg are sceptical and will advise passengers to wear masks if they feel unsafe.
  • One passenger, however, believes the impact of Covid-19 has been reduced.

There have been mixed reactions to the government's repeal of Covid-19 measures that regulated South Africans' day-to-day activities for at least two years, including those that made mask-wearing compulsory.

On Wednesday night, Health Minister Joe Phaahla gazetted the repeal.

Baragwanath Taxi Rank operators in Johannesburg are sceptical about the move, but say they will not force passengers to wear masks.

Driver Mondi Sithole said: "The wearing of masks is no longer compulsory. No passenger will be forced to wear one. We were forced to wear masks and we complied with the law. Masks are problematic. We were battling to breathe in the fresh air."

READ | No more masks in classrooms? Unions express relief, but also fear amid overcrowding and flu season

However, he said he would advise passengers to wear masks if they feel unsafe.

Another driver, Phindile Nkabinde, is concerned about the spread of Covid-19.

He said:

The virus is still active. We welcome the announcement by the government, however, our lives will be put at risk as drivers. We are in a flu season and people are going to fall sick. I will only stop wearing my mask after winter. I won't stop asking my passengers to wear their masks.

Nkabinde has a box of masks in his taxi that he shares with passengers.

"The wearing of masks is one's personal choice. I will plead with passengers to wear masks. For safety's sake let's keep on wearing masks inside a taxi," he added.

Queue marshal Thulani Mbhele said it would be difficult to stop wearing masks because they deal with different people, including those who are sick.

"When Covid-19 arrived, we were told it was deadly in winter. We are in the winter season now and the government wants us to stop wearing masks, which is difficult to accept.

"Imagine [you are] seated next to a person who is coughing and not wearing a mask. This is problematic for us. We must protect each other. 

"We are not above the government and we will not distract it. We will continue calling for people to wear masks. I will even go [on] my knees to beg passengers to wear masks.

"Imagine ferrying someone carrying a newly born baby and someone seated next to the mother is coughing, Mbhele added.

READ | Wear to from here? SA set to ditch face masks, but some experts still have concerns

One passenger, Gift Manana, said he would still wear a mask inside a taxi.

Later, he changed tune and said he would only wear one if he was compelled to do so.

Another passenger, Constance Khuzwayo, welcomed the announcement.

Khuzwayo said the impact of Covid-19 was reduced.

"These masks came with Covid-19. We were not wearing them during the past winter season.

"As an elder, I am wearing mine wherever I go. I will only wear it when asked to do so. For now, I won't wear one. I was waiting for the government to end the wearing of masks," Khuzwayo added.

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