'Where will government find R4bn?': Taxis demand Covid-19 billions

Santaco rejected the initial R1.1bn offer, saying it would not be enough. File photo.
Santaco rejected the initial R1.1bn offer, saying it would not be enough. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy

Taxi bosses have rejected a R1.1bn Covid-19 relief payment from the government and are threatening to bring SA to a halt unless they get billions more.

The R1.1bn offer of a one-off payment was turned down in talks between the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and transport minister Fikile Mbalula this week.

Taxi owners are demanding R20,000 per taxi for each month of the lockdown. With an estimated 200,000 taxis across SA, a bailout on these terms could cost up to R4bn a month.

Santaco did not give a total figure for how much it wanted, but insists further talks with Mbalula on the taxpayer-funded bailout would be on the basis of its numbers, not his.

The taxi industry has announced fare hikes of between 10% and 25% nationwide

It is understood taxi owners also want the regulation restricting them to 70% loads scrapped. Mbalula is apparently open to granting that request, but is standing firm on the R1.1bn figure.

The Sunday Times understands that the funds on offer to Santaco are part of the R500bn package announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa to bail out industries that are in distress due to the lockdown.

Mbalula declined to comment yesterday. His spokesperson, Ayanda-Allie Paine, said the minister would make an announcement this week. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sources who attended the meeting told the Sunday Times that the R1.1bn offer was rejected on the basis that it would not be enough.

Santaco spokesperson Thabisho Mole-lekwa told the Sunday Times that he did not want to comment on figures.

"We have not agreed on any amount with the government, there is nothing that is official and therefore we would not be able to respond to the issue of the R1.1bn. We do not want to play around with figures that are being proposed because they may not be final and they could be changed at any time," Molelekwa said.

"So we would rather deal with a figure that the government ... has committed to in writing. Those are the figures that as Santaco we will be willing to respond to officially," he said.

"We went to the minister and proposed figures which we believe could at least assist the industry. So the consultation that the minster is going to have is going to be based on the figures we have proposed, not the other way around."

Molelekwa said he was "not at liberty" to discuss what amount the taxi group was seeking.

In addition to funding, Santaco also wants its taxis to be allowed to carry full loads and wants long-distance taxis to be able to operate even though travel between provinces is prohibited under level 3 of the lockdown.

A department insider said the demands of the taxi operators put Mbalula in a difficult position because he had fought for the industry to be bailed out when most of his cabinet colleagues were opposed to such help.

"There are bigger industries, they got nothing. Tourism got only R200m, the arts and culture industry got R150m - these are industries that will be inactive for the rest of the year," the source said.

"Taxis have been operational - they are allowed to carry 70% of the load. They even undermine that 70%. In fact, they are not the worst affected industry.

"Where will the government find that R4bn? The only people who can argue convincingly are long-distance operators, because they have been put out of business. In fact this R1.1bn must be shared by them."

In a statement issued by the department of transport following the meeting with Santaco, Mbalula said he had noted "the industry's request for a reconfiguration of government's financial support and reminded the industry that the relief is not meant to be a rand-for-rand compensation, but rather financial assistance".

"These funds are to assist the industry, they cannot replace the losses that the operations have incurred as a result of the coronavirus," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Cosatu has slammed the department of transport for "squandering" the time it had during levels 4 and 5 to produce a comprehensive transport plan.

The labour federation wants municipalities "to come on board and assist the department", which it says has proved its "inability" to play its part.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said that the rail system would be a "death trap" if it was reopened in the absence of a proper plan.

But Mbalula said the system would remain closed.

"I have explained that over and over again," he said.

"What is it they are critiquing on the plan? Which plan do they have? I said I cannot allow trains to operate because they are a risk ... I don't think Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of SA] is ready."


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