Taxi bosses to go it alone after no joy with Fikile Mbalula

05 April 2020 - 00:00 By S'THEMBILE CELE
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Transport minister Fikile Mbalula.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula.

The taxi industry has moved to set up its own emergency fund to cushion its members against the economic effects of the national lockdown. This follows a deadlock in meetings over funding relief with transport minister Fikile Mbalula.

Sources in the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) said this week that at least R3.5bn is needed to ensure the survival of their industry as the lockdown ravages the economy.

Taxi industry insiders who attended a meeting with Mbalula and the Black Business Council this week said they have resolved to establish an independently managed fund which is due to be announced this week, with details on how it would operate.

Stakeholders in the industry that runs SA's biggest, although informal, commuter transport system say they have struggled to find common ground with Mbalula and have accused him of being unwilling to hear any of their proposals.

Santaco has been at loggerheads with Mbalula over how the taxi industry should operate during the lockdown and measures to recoup revenue lost during the lockdown.

Sources said proposals Santaco made to the government this week during meetings with Mbalula were rejected out of hand. This was confirmed by the organisation's chief strategic manager, Bafana Magagula.

Bafana Magagula Santaco chief strategic manager
Bafana Magagula Santaco chief strategic manager
Image: Supplied

"In the meeting they [Mbalula and officials from his department] dismissed it, saying government has no money. They did not even listen to us," Magagula said.

"We are saying that buses and trains will be getting subsidised whilst sitting at home, why can that money not be redirected for this month and pay those who are moving essential workers? On the petrol levy we were saying because the petrol price was going down by R2 no-one will benefit from that because people are mainly at home with their cars. They could leave the price unchanged or give the consumer 50% relief and use the rest to fund our relief."

In terms of the proposed R3.5bn fund, drivers staying at home would be paid R250 a week and those driving taxis during the restricted hours of the lockdown would be paid R350 instead of the R900 they usually earn per week.

Santaco also wants the private sector to contribute to the fund.

"We want government to be the first to contribute but private sector must come to the party as well. They survive on workers who come to work using taxis, they must make sure the industry does not collapse."

Magagula said Santaco was not impressed with Mbalula's directive, which was rescinded hours after it was announced, that taxis could operate at full passenger capacity during the lockdown.

"We may be uneducated as taxi drivers but how do you maintain social distance at 100%? They said it would be 100% plus masks. We said 'how do you give thousands of people masks every day, bearing in mind that they do not last forever; it is a massive undertaking. You talk as if you can supply this thing tomorrow when you failed to supply sanitisers in the first two weeks.

"The minister is playing games with people's lives. We got the sense from meeting him that he is too excited. Maybe he can go back to sport and play there."

Leaders of the National Taxi Alliance - who appeared alongside Mbalula when he made the announcement that taxis can operate at full capacity - said they were not aware of the Santaco fund but would support it.

"It would be a welcome reprieve because all of us in the industry are operating at bare minimum. We don't want to practise petty politics," spokesperson Theo Malele said.

On supporting Mbalula's decision, Malele said that they thought the decision had been reached after consultation.

Santaco also met Mosebenzi Zwane, the chair of parliament's transport portfolio committee, to raise its problems.

Zwane said he was not able to comment publicly on the matter.

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