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Taxis reject Mbalula's R1.135bn relief offer and vow to start operating at full capacity

28 June 2020 - 16:11 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Minibus taxis across the country to resume operation on 100% capacity and long distance basis, says Santaco.
Minibus taxis across the country to resume operation on 100% capacity and long distance basis, says Santaco.

All taxis will operate at full capacity from Monday, the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) vowed on Sunday, as it rejected the R1.135bn in relief funds offered by the government.

“We have decided to take the bull by the horns. We cannot have postponements on our livelihoods,” Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch told reporters.

“We have decided that all provincial structures will from Monday, load 100% capacity — whether the minister approves, or not. All long-distance taxis must resume operation. No permits will be wanted from passengers in long-distance taxis,” he added.

He said the decision came after transport minister Fikile Mbalula four times failed to meet and discuss a way forward with the taxi industry.

The industry leader said it would be compulsory for commuters to wear masks, taxis would be sanitised, and long-distance operators' marshals would ensure all commuters are screened.

“We have taken this decision against the frustration and lack of direction. We are aware our vehicles will be impounded. Tomorrow, we will not accept any form of impoundment; if any taxi is impounded, all taxis will come to a halt until they are released,” he said.

The industry rejected the conditions government tabled for it to access R1.135bn in relief funds.

Mbalula gave the industry his word that he would ask the national command council (NCC) to consider amending regulations to allow for long-distance and cross-border travel as well as full passenger capacity in taxis.

Mbalula announced on Friday that the government had signed off on the R1.135bn for the industry, which would amount to about R5,000 per vehicle.

Strict conditions were attached to the relief fund, including that the applicants must be South African, registered with the department of transport and registered as a business entity for income tax.

Taaibosch said they demanded that the relief be reviewed.

“After our meeting it was our expectation that he will give us a chance to engage with constituencies. The minister knew the matter was sensitive and we did not have an agreement with him.

“He wanted to canvass his understating and portray us as unreasonable. The minister continues to make wrong statements about us. We want to appeal to him to refrain from misleading the public about us.

“The announcement does not reflect the spirit of negotiation with him, nothing was finalised.

“The taxi industry does not accept the relief fund by government; the offer is just a clear demonstration of what this government says of this industry,” Taaibosch added.

Below is the transport minister's response in full:

Following my engagements with the taxi industry leadership in the last week and my commitment to give them an update once the matters have been canvassed with the decision-making structures within government, I scheduled feedback meetings on Thursday. These had to be rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances.

It is rather unfortunate and regrettable that the taxi industry leadership has elected to violate the law and forcefully load taxis at 100% capacity and undertake inter-provincial operations without the requisite permits, rather than await a decision on the matters they have tabled.

Government has a responsibility to ensure that all measures in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are driven by the commitment to preserve human life and avoid an uncontrolled spread of the virus. It is on that basis that a decision to allow uncontrolled inter-provincial travel and 100% loading capacity on taxis have to be subjected to the collective decision-making.

I appeal to the leadership structures of the industry to reconsider their decision to incite lawlessness and place their drivers and passengers on a collision course with law enforcement authorities. While we have expressed support for a review of loading capacity to 100%, until the current Directions have been revised the legal loading capacity is 70% and enforceable by law enforcement authorities.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms, any call encouraging taxi operators to violate provisions of the law and promote lawlessness. We remain committed to taking forward our engagements and encourage the industry to ensure that any form of protest they embark upon, is within the parameters of the law.

* This article has been updated since its initial publication to add the transport minister's comment