The South African National Taxi Association (Santaco) has ordered all drivers to defy Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s directives and to begin operating at 100% capacity.

On Monday morning, taxi operators went ahead with the rebellion; cramming passengers into minibuses bound for local ferry and interprovincial travel.

This, despite Mbalula’s last-minute pleas for compliance with the current regulations which limit passenger capacity to 70% and prohibit interprovincial fare without a proper permit.

Taxi industry and Mbalula not seeing eye to eye

The latest conflict between Mbalula and the taxi industry comes after weeks of contestation surrounding regulations and government’s financial relief efforts. The taxi industry, which has suffered heavy financial losses due to the decreased number of commuters during hard lockdown and subsequent capacity limitations, argues that government has not done enough to ensure the sector’s survival amid the pandemic.

Mbalula’s offer of a once-off R1.1 billion relief package was rejected by Santaco.

Taxi operators, some of whom fear losing their minibuses to repossession after missing bank repayments, say that Mbalula’s relief offer is insufficient. The transport minister’s retort — that government simply does not have the funds to match the industry’s expectations — has been met with further criticism.

Tensions boiled over in Gauteng last week, when Santaco orchestrated a ‘peaceful shutdown’ of all taxi operations. Despite the association’s appeals for non-violence, taxi operators in Tshwane blockaded major highways. Police officers and military personnel were forced to disperse the defiant protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas; non-lethal action which further inflamed tensions between taxi drivers and the government.

Taxis operating at 100% capacity without interprovincial permits

On Sunday, Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch issued a statement to all taxi operators in South Africa. Taaibosch said that after failed engagements with Mbalula, the industry was forced to go against the grain and defy certain restrictions. Taaibosch said:

“The leadership of Santaco [in] provinces must inform their structures that as from Monday 29 June all taxis must load 100% capacity whether the minister approves or not.

All taxis must load 100% capacity and all long-distance taxis must resume operations. We are also indicating that no permits will be wanted from passengers who get into long-distance taxis.”

Taaibosch added that any action taken against taxis operating at 100% capacity or crossing provincial lines would be met with recourse in the form of nationwide strikes.

Mbalula condemns lawlessness

Mbalula hit back at Santaco, calling on taxis to obey the laws while government deliberated the issue of passenger capacities. The transport minister, who snubbed an earlier appointment with taxi industry stakeholders, said:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms, any call encouraging taxi operators to violate provisions of the law and promote lawlessness.”

In reply, Santaco argued that Mbalula’s handling of the impasse had been improper and dishonest. Taking to social media, the association said:

“Forget Mr Bullet train who’s dishing out poisoned chalice. This treatment from the Minister has forced us to think very deep in our unspoken frustrations cos it’s clear we were sold empty shells.”

Mbalula said that he would reschedule urgent engagements with leaders of the taxi industry in order to mitigate lawlessness and the loss of life.

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Presh JM Reporter

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