Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Monday said he has not “lost his grip” on the taxi industry, emphasising that lawlessness would not be tolerated.
Mbalula was hosting a virtual meeting on the next phase of reopening the aviation industry, but journalists instead peppered the minister with questions about the taxi industry’s defiance of lockdown regulations.
The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) at the weekend said government was not taking the industry seriously and that they have decided to take the “the bull by its horns” and go back to loading passengers at 100% capacity from Monday and disregard travel documentation.
In two separate virtual briefings, Santaco and NTA said they were willing to engage with government through Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who had been postponing meeting with them multiple times.
Mbalula cancelled a meeting planned for Sunday with the taxi operators, who have been negotiating to carry more passengers, and to cross provincial borders during the coronavirus restrictions.
On Monday, Mbalula said he appreciated the difficulties the taxi industry was facing, especially financially.
“That is why we introduced a taxi relief fund, which is ex gratia [a favour, not an obligation].”
Mbalula said because the taxi industry was not formalised, it made it more difficult to enjoy benefits offered to other industries by government.
‘Backbone of our nation’
But, said Mbalula, the taxi industry “is the backbone of our nation”. Consequently, it needed to be formalised in order to receive subsidies.
Mbalula said he aimed for this to happen by next April.
“But can we achieve these things by a state of lawlessness? No. Leadership must lead in difficult times.”
The minister said any attempt by the taxi industry to break the law puts it on a collision course with law enforcement.
“In that instance, the law will have to maintained. You are daring the law. There is no need to do that.”
Mbalula said he was more than willing to help the industry and that he himself asked for a relief fund to be implemented. But he cannot make unilateral decisions about regulations, the minister said.
Those need to be reviewed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).
“But now you are putting a gun on the government (sic). Government has always been the ally [of the taxi industry] and is ready to review the regulations.”
He said it would be unnecessary for the taxi industry to bring the country to a standstill, thereby forcing a clash with government, because this was something that “can be resolved”.
He added that the proposal for 100% capacity for taxis was being considered by the NCCC, but that the body had many other issues and proposals to make decisions on.
Not supposed to go to war
“Is the taxi industry not suffering the loss in terms of the lockdown? It has. I understand it deep down.
“But we are going to war on things we are not supposed to be going to war for.”
Mbalula said he respected Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch and invited him to ring him up to discuss grievances.
“There is no war here and there is no need to fight. We must talk.”
Santaco spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa could not be reached for comment.
– News24 Wire