Soweto taxi war

Commuters ask Gauteng Transport MEC to keep the taxi ranks closed

By Bheki C. Simelane 26 March 2019

File photo: Witswatersrand African Taxi Association (WATA) drivers gather after Gauteng transport MEC Ismail Vadi announced his decision to ban disputed routes and taxi ranks on July 12, 2017 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Mduduzi Ndzingi)

Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi announces taxi operator truce, but fed-up Soweto commuters say keep the ranks closed — they have had enough of the ongoing violence and want answers.

After a week-long closure of six taxi ranks in Soweto, disgruntled Soweto commuters have rejected an agreement between two feuding taxi associations and demanded that Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi extend the suspension of operations in the affected areas.

Addressing a crowd of Soweto residents at the Uncle Tom’s Hall in Orlando, Soweto last Tuesday, 19 March 2019, Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said the feuding taxi associations had come to an agreement on a number of proposals to be adhered to by both parties.

The Nancefield Dube West Association (Nanduwe) and the Witwatersrand Taxi Association (Wata) had told Vadi they had agreed to work together peacefully and that there would be zero tolerance for firearms at taxi ranks.

But angry Soweto residents rejected a number of the proposals in the agreement reached between the two taxi associations, which, had it satisfied MEC Vadi, could have led to the re-opening of six taxi ranks. The residents, most of whom are commuters, pleaded with Vadi not to re-open them.

Suspension of operations on its own is not enough. There is a lot going on in the taxi industry. Taxi bosses and drivers need to be educated about customer care. We don’t understand what’s happening. Taxi drivers are human, they need an education. And, why are you only taking control now Mr Vadi? What you are doing is not enough. You need to go deeper. Hence, I say three months’ suspension is not enough. Please do not open the taxi ranks,” said Thobile Makgatho from Orlando.

The two taxi associations told Vadi they had come to an agreement that they would approach the affected communities and apologise. Vadi said they had agreed to set up a committee to ensure that the terms of the agreement were not contravened and that there would be no further chaos. They also said that law enforcement agencies should monitor the situation for two weeks.

Vadi said he had told the taxi operators his department would consult the affected communities first. The MEC said that on 18 March the associations had decided that only Nanduwe would pick up passengers at the taxi ranks and nearby pick-up points, and that Wata-affiliated taxis should begin their pick-ups further away.

This proposal angered commuters, who said the provincial transport department was favouring Nanduwe.

Commuters questioned why the associations could not work on a 50-50 basis as they once had. Commuters said the 50-50 model had never caused any violence between the two associations.

We want 50-50 or nothing. Our children remain in danger. We are in danger. It can’t be right that there are bullets flying across our bedroom windows while we sleep. It can’t be right that our children have to duck bullets when going to school,” said Orlando resident Busisiwe Vilankulu Mogane.

We are in unusual circumstances at the moment. That is why we called this hasty meeting,” Vadi said.

He admitted that his department was in a dilemma because on the one hand, they wanted peace and stability, yet the closure of the taxi ranks was a great inconvenience to commuters.

Vadi said the associations had also met his department and Gauteng Premier David Makhura. The meeting with the taxi alliance had seemed amicable.

This violence has to stop now. White people are counting money and we are counting piling-up dead bodies. The taxi industry is the only pride of black people when it comes to business,” said one of three ward councillors who presided over the meeting.

We are humans, not cattle. We cannot continue to be slaughtered with this kind of callousness that we currently see in our townships,” said the councillor.

Commuters presented a number of reasons why, despite struggling with transport after the closure of the taxi ranks, they wanted them to remain shut. They said they failed to understand why the two associations could not work together.

An Orlando commuter identified only as Palesa criticised the transport department for its failure to provide contingency measures during the shutdown of the taxi ranks. Palesa said she had been affected in previous taxi violence.

Please respect us the way we respect you,” said Palesa. She said there was no point of opening and closing the ranks. It was not a solution. She asked what happened to the previous peaceful agreement.

Other commuters concurred. One said that closing and re-opening the ranks made no sense — it was like reprimanding children by putting them in the naughty corner. When they say they won’t misbehave again they are free until they misbehave again. Commuters said this was not a solution to the massive challenges faced by the taxi industry.

Terrence Hlatjwayo from Phefeni wanted to know what the department did to those who contravened existing peace agreements.

What I want to know is what punishment was meted to those taxi drivers who contravened existing agreements? If they were not punished, I see no reason why they will change their behaviour. People should get arrested for contravening the agreements, because by not arresting them you are promoting a culture of impunity which is already prevalent in the taxi industry” said Hlatjwayo.

I thought I’d see the leaders of the two associations. Where are the drivers? Our kids are dying. I want to see the two leaders and pose questions to them, I want to see the drivers who are doing the shooting,” Nonhlanhla Dlamini from Ward 38 said.

Dlamini said her son was one of the victims in the latest spate of taxi violence in Soweto.

He was beaten by taxi drivers because he was taking pictures to send to his boss to show why he was late, but they beat him up and crushed his phone,” Dlamini said.

Another resident said if the associations were happy with the agreement and were promising to be peaceful, they should be given a second chance. But he was shouted down by the crowd. People insisted that they were not ready for resumed operations.

Commuters said Vadi should hold off from lifting the suspension until there were safety guarantees from both sides. Vadi said he would not make a decision, but instead would take the commuters’ suggestions back to the associations for consideration.

Vadi also announced a transport survey to be conducted in thousands of homes. The Gauteng transport MEC said the aim was to provide the department with a complete picture of travel patterns in the province, providing information and data important for transport planning.

What this means is that there will be people going out to 37,000 houses all over the province, interviewing people about travel patterns, how they are going to work and back, whether they are using train services or mini-bus taxis and so on, and how they feel about that,” said Vadi. DM

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