Long-distance taxi operators say road rules are enforced differently in KZN

11 June 2024 - 21:34
A second meeting between law enforcement and KwaZulu-Natal's long-distance taxi operators has ended in a deadlock. File photo.
Image: Nokulunga Majola A second meeting between law enforcement and KwaZulu-Natal's long-distance taxi operators has ended in a deadlock. File photo.

Disgruntled long-distance taxi owners in KwaZulu Natal have vowed to play their part in keeping peace in the province, despite a second meeting to iron out their issues with the department of transport and police ending in a deadlock.

The meeting between the department of transport and the taxi operators was called by provincial commissioner Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi after the long-distance industry expressed dissatisfaction with how the department of transport, through its law enforcement programme Operation Shanela, was interpreting the National Land Transport Act, which they claim is enforced differently in KZN compared to other provinces.

“One of the main problems is that Shanela has a tendency of taking the licensing disc of the vehicles when they are stopped and then operators have to make contact privately to pay a ‘fine’ to get their discs back. The act is pretty clear that they don’t have that sort of power; it’s the power of the traffic office,” said Robert Sinclair, the lawyer for the taxi owners.

“With regards to things like impounding a vehicle, the act is also very clear: it gives the law enforcement officer a discretion which says they may (or may not) impound.

“Unfortunately there seems to be a tendency in this province to move to the harshest treatment, which is impounding the vehicle, which has its own complications. In other provinces a fine is issued first before a vehicle is impounded ... we don’t understand why they are taking this sort of line on the long-distance operators [in KZN].”

On May 24 taxi operators blockaded the N2 highway in Port Shepstone and the N3 in Durban for two days to express these and other grievances. Mkhwanazi managed to get the protesting owners to clear the blockades after a brief negotiation and a meeting with the department of transport subsequently took place on the 26th.

A second meeting was scheduled for Tuesday at the Durban Central police station.

“There was an agreement that we would have a follow-up meeting where we would have legal brains from both parties to come together — and us, as the police, also having to study this act and come to discuss,” said Mkhwanazi.

However, the meeting could not resolve the taxi operators' grievances, leading Mkhwanazi — who chaired the meeting — to suggest the solution would be for the owners to approach the courts for a proper interpretation.

They are taking a ‘wait and see’ process ... They are not people who naturally go out of their way to cause trouble, but these blockades come purely out of frustration
Robert Sinclair, lawyer for the taxi owners

“We agreed that without the department having to commit themselves in a public platform like this, it is best that the legal team from the [taxi] industry approaches the court — because once there is a dispute in terms of the law, the only recourse we can get is to approach a competent court to interpret the law correctly,” he said.

“The recourse for any dissatisfaction in terms of the application of the law can only resolved applicably by the court or writing to the department to seek audience with them to discuss possible relaxation of some of the things they are doing.”

The next point of argument was whether the department would consider relaxing the way they enforce these regulations until the court clarifies this issue, which the department refused.

Mkhwanazi, however, said the taxi owners had assured him this would not lead to violence or any more blockading of roads.

“They understand the frustration that the society has when they act in the manner that they did and they committed that they would not do it again. I trust what they told me.

“As frustrated as they may be, their leadership insists we stay close to them so they communicate their frustrations to us. I take comfort in knowing they understand the need to operate within the perimeters of the law and they need guidance from us, from time to time, to ensure their intentions are within the law.”

Mkhwanazi said he would compile a report for his superiors at provincial and national levels and urge them to engage their colleagues in the policing and security structure who are responsible for this act.

One of biggest complaints is that the long-distance operators say the enforcement of the law in KZN differs to how it is enforced in other parts of the country, he said.

“That gives me an obligation to engage at the national level with the entire cluster so they understand that this is not only a KZN problem; it’s a problem that maybe other enforcement in other provinces are partly contributing to. So if we come out with a solution, it should not be a KZN solution but a solution across the board that will address all these taxi associations that are going across these district boundaries.”

Mkhwanazi said he will try to facilitate a third meeting once the whole leadership structure is sorted, presumably in July.

Sinclair said his clients were grateful for the chance to engage in this matter, even though they did not come to an agreement. He confirmed they had also indicated they would not rush to the courts or blockade roads until after the meeting.

“They are taking a ‘wait and see’ process without just rushing off to courts or blocking roads. They are not people who naturally go out of their way to cause trouble, but these blockades come purely out of frustration. If we can eliminate that frustration, as this meeting attempted to do, we would go a long way to meeting each other and resolving the matter.”