In what he said should go down as the turning point in the history of the more than R50 billion South African taxi industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday pledged the government’s support for formalising, regulating and empowering what he described as one of the country’s most important economic sectors.
Delivering a virtual keynote opening address at the first ever three-day National Taxi Lekgotla at the Birchwood conference centre in Ekurhuleni, Ramaphosa said the industry was a major source of business creation, with about 150 000 taxi business owners.
Despite the taxi industry being one of the key drivers of the economy and a major employer of about 300 000 drivers and 100 000 rank marshals – Ramaphosa said the unregulated nature of the industry impeded its growth potential.
Among several challenges Ramaphosa cited as tarnishing the reputation of the industry, are:
- Labour relations and allegations of exploitation of workers.
- A high number of road accidents involving taxis.
- The association of the taxi industry with sexism and gender-based violence.
- The industry’s response to the rise of e-hailing services.
- Compliance with tax laws.
- Conflict relating to competition over routes and associated acts of violence and criminality.
Ramaphosa said: “We share a common aspiration to see the minibus taxi industry overcome its challenges, adapt in response to the demands of modern public transportation and ultimately to grow and thrive.
“At the heart of all our endeavours is formalisation, regulation and economic empowerment.
“The sector emerged at a time when apartheid spatial planning severely restricted people’s access to safe and reliable transport. From its humble beginnings of a few operators, mainly in the urban centres, the industry has grown from strength to strength.
“Today, the vast majority of public transport commuters use taxis, followed by buses and trains. This makes it all the more necessary there is transformation and empowerment with real benefits to the businesses involved.
“Formalisation means greater regulation. The compact that must emerge from this lekgotla must be anchored in the rule of law.”
The government has invested substantially in the taxi recapitalisation programme and would “continue to leverage its potential”.
“We will be giving renewed attention to supporting business growth in the sector, especially to empower previously disadvantaged individuals such as women,” said Ramaphosa.
Formalisation, he said, would benefit “not just operators, but workers who will be able to benefit from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and training funded by the Skills Development Levy”.
“We must speak as one on the need for professionalism,” he said.
In his response, South African National Taxi Council president Phillip Taaibosch pledged the industry’s commitment to get rid of “rogue elements”.
“Those who transgress the law should be expelled. If you kill and rape, you should no longer come back to this industry. We want to recognise the commuter as king.
“We are in support of what the transport minister (Fikile Mbalula) has put forward, having made his intention very clear within a short space of time at the helm,” Taaibosch said.
Mbalula told delegates unity in the industry was “sacrosanct”, calling for the elimination of the “perverse incentives for conflict and violence”.
“This should not be another talk shop that produces more resolutions, but rather a platform where we must be bold and step out of our comfort zones.
“We should deliver a pact that will enjoin us to take decisive steps in turning around the fortunes of this industry,” Mbalula said.