Taxi industry set to bring Gauteng to a grinding halt today

Passengers are seen at at taxi rank as residents of a number of African cities where the coronavirus is spreading are heading to the countryside to try to escape from the disease, in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Taxi bosses were seeking a bigger slice of the pie in government’s relief efforts for the transport industry.

Law enforcement agencies are squaring up for protest action by the taxi industry across Gauteng today.

This follows Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s announcement of a R1.135 billion Covid-19 relief fund for the transport industry, which taxi operators wanted a bigger share of. This demand was in light of the informal industry losing an estimated R25 million a day to lockdown regulations.

Johannesburg Metro Police Department spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said multiple law enforcement agencies would be on alert and conducting joint operations to monitor today’s events “if the strike goes ahead”.

UPDATE: Watch: Early morning blockades as Gauteng taxi strike starts

Mbalula said yesterday that the strike was “unfortunate and counter-productive” and would “negatively affect the working classes”, as well as worsen the “devastation” suffered by the taxi industry through the combined impact of reduced capacity and limited operating hours because of the lockdown restrictions.

Over the weekend, the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) was alerted by its Gauteng wing that its operators planned to shut the province down in response to Mbalula’s announcement.

According to Santaco spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa, the bodies also demand that government backtrack on its intensified impounding operations, which had seen even less taxis on the province’s roads.

“From what they have told us in the letter, the purpose of the strike is to express their dissatisfaction with the announcement regarding the relief fund for the taxi industry, which is very small,” said Molelekwa.

Taxi drivers were also taking issue with targeted operations around the province leading the mass impounding of operating taxis. This has led to even more taxi operators running out of business due to the lockdown.

Santaco also criticised Mbalula’s engagements with the media, saying he was deliberately misrepresenting the industry when announcing the outcomes of ongoing engagements with taxi bosses.

Molelekwa said the minister’s announcements were ill-timed and served to further anger and confuse taxi organisations, which could lead to more provinces taking part in protest action.

“When it comes to the relief engagements, the minister has now put us in a very precarious position by making an announcement before we have been able to consult with all of our constituencies,” he said.

“As a constituency-based organisation, we were supposed to first get feedback from our people on the ground, and now the minister has made pronouncements on issues which, as far as we were concerned, were still matters under discussion, particularly to do with the distribution of the R1.135 billion fund.”

Taxi bosses were seeking a bigger slice of the pie in government’s relief efforts for the transport industry, which would see 60,000 e-hailing operators and 1,900 cross-border operators also receive help from the same fund.

For taxi operators, the fund distribution would see operators taking home about R5,000 each, which Molelekwa argued would roughly translate to about half that amount in real terms.

– simnikiweh@citizen.co.za

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