Drivers hope for a better life but National Taxi Alliance skips summit

30 October 2020 - 08:22 By Siyabulela Fobosi and Bernard Chiguvare
A national summit on taxis is under way in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, but one of the major taxi associations is not participating. File photo.
A national summit on taxis is under way in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, but one of the major taxi associations is not participating. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

From Thursday to Saturday October 31, the national department of transport is hosting the long-awaited National Taxi Lekgotla together with civil society and academics. In attendance are President Cyril Ramaphosa, transport minister Fikile Mbalula (virtual attendance), officials from government departments and representatives from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), the South African Local Government Association (Salga) and the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

However, the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), with 188 taxi associations throughout the country affiliated to it, withdrew from the lekgotla. It claimed the government was acting in bad faith, that the minister of transport was biased towards Santaco and that the lekgotla was for that organisation's benefit.

Maybe if the taxi industry is regulated and able to speak with one voice, working conditions may improve
Driver, who works from 5am and 9pm some days

In a media statement on October 23, the NTA said: “Minister Mbalula and his department have made it abundantly clear that the purpose of the National Taxi Lekgotla in to entrench Santaco as the apex leadership of the taxi industry and to give it statutory powers to regulate the taxi industry. This is tantamount to inviting us to interfere in the affairs of another organisation we do not belong to.”

The NTA also did not participate in the provincial meetings.

Since the 1990s, the government has been making efforts to change the industry. The National Taxi Task Team (NTTT) drove the industry’s transformation in 1995. Such a change depended on the ensuing recommendations as embraced in 1996: formalising the minibus taxi industry; regulating and controlling the industry; capacity building and training; and establishing conditions so that the industry is able to maintain and sustain itself economically.

Now 25 years after those recommendations, the government is hosting the National Taxi Lekgotla to discuss the following key issues: unity and leadership of the taxi industry; an empowerment model; regulation, professionalisation and customer care.

The question remains if there can be unity in the industry if the lekgotla is centred on Santaco. It has a democratically elected council and say to represent the whole industry but shortly after it was formed NTA set up office as a rival.

There have been subsequent conflicts between the two bodies over representation, which continue to cause problems for the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme (TRP), introduced in 1999. The TRP is central to the formalisation and restructuring of the taxi industry. However, while some of the operators with old taxis have benefited from the TRP through the scrapping process, most have not. Therefore, the process has not worked for most taxi operators and drivers.

The presence of two mother bodies both claiming to represent and speak on behalf of the industry considerably complicates attempts by the government to consult the industry and enter into binding agreements.

Meanwhile, minibus taxi drivers and commuters who spoke to GroundUp were mostly unaware of the taxi lekgotla.

“If the meeting aims to formalise the industry and make us speak with one voice, I believe that will stop taxi violence,” said Denis Masvanganya, a driver for five years. His route is from Elim to Johannesburg.

“I use the N1 and pass through Botlokwa, a small town north of Polokwane. No matter if there are few empty spaces in my vehicle, taxi associations in Botlokwa will not allow me to load commuters. This is bad for me as well as those commuters,” he said.

Jabulani Mashaba, whose route is from Louis Trichardt to Giyani, said, “My working day can start as early as 5am and ends at 9pm, but the salary does not match the hours ... I am paid according to the trips.”

He can do at most four trips a day.

“Maybe if the taxi industry is regulated and able to speak with one voice, working conditions may improve,” he said.

Another driver, who wanted to be anonymous, said, “No matter how the taxi industry gets formalised if the department of transport does not sort out the issue of operating routes, there will always be conflict.”

A 62-year-old woman driver said, “I sometimes fight with commuters who may not want to pay the full fare. I believe they do that because I am a female and if there were regulations governing this then we wouldn’t have problems.”

She said formalisation of the industry may attract more women.

Fobosi is senior researcher at Unesco 'Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights', Nelson R Mandela School of Law, faculty of law, University of Fort Hare.