The taxi industry’s defiance of lockdown regulations is a direct challenge to government’s overarching authority and will be dealt with decisively by law enforcement agencies.

This was the latest warning issued by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, following a rebellion led by the South African National Taxi Association (Santaco) which ordered the industry to operate at 100% capacity and ignore the need for interprovincial travel permits. Addressing the media on Monday morning, Mbalula slammed the taxi industry’s impatience, arguing that regulatory reprieves were actively being deliberated by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

The latest challenge, which seeks to undermine a host of lockdown laws, comes after weeks of intensified conflict between Mbalula and the taxi industry. Santaco argues that government has failed to support the sector, which, like most other industries, has suffered serious financial losses as a result of lockdown.

Mbalula recently revealed that government had offered the taxi industry a once-off relief payment of R1.1 billion; an amount which Santaco blasted as insufficient.

Minister Mbalula doesn’t want ‘taxi war’

The latest act of defiance follows protest action in Gauteng, which saw what was intended to be a peaceful shutdown of taxi services devolve into acts of criminality typified by highway blockades. Law enforcement agencies responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, while Mbalula made hasty retreat from the scene after being subjected to aggression from striking taxi drivers.

Mbalula condemned the acts of violence and pleaded with taxi associations to follow the rule of law.

On Monday morning, as passengers crammed into minibus taxis in direct contravention of the Level 3 lockdown regulations, Mbalula argued that the war being waged by the industry against government was both callous and unnecessary, saying:

“Can the taxi industry promote anarchy and bring the country to a standstill? Yes, they can. Can the law be exerted with the authority of the state? Yes, there will be a collision. Over what? Over something that we can resolve.

That is completely unnecessary. Collision over what? Over 100% [capacity], over interprovincial travel?”

‘South Africa is not a banana republic’

Mbalula added that while the department of transport supported the call for 100% capacity, the final decision rested with the NCCC. Santaco president Philip Taaibosch has argued that Mbalula has not been proactive enough in seeking workable alternatives to the debilitating impasse and, as such, has left the taxi industry with no option but to defy government restrictions. During Monday’s media briefing, Mbalula hit back, saying:

“The president of Santaco, mister Taaibosch has got my phone [number] — [if you think] if I’m lying, ask my wife — he wakes me up at 6am and we talk. If there is something he does not understand from me — he is older than me, I am very young [compared to] Tata Taaibosch — as a minister, he can talk to me, I give him all the respect.

We differ all the time. He represents the taxi industry; he’s passionate about it. We talk about issues. So, we can’t talk past each other. There is no war here and there is no need to fight… we must talk.”

The transport minister noted that open acts of defiance would be dealt with by law enforcement agencies, pleading, once more, with taxi associations to follow the regulations and engage with government in a progressive manner. Mbalula said:

“Where the law is deliberately being broken, the state and its authority must be exerted. South Africa is not a banana republic, we cannot allow a state of lawlessness where people dare government and say that they are going to render this unworkable and ungovernable.”

Mbalula explained that he would be meeting with the NCCC in due course to discuss concerns raised by Santaco.

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Presh JM Reporter

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