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The industry is a jungle, says Santaco chief

South Africa

TAXI VIOLENCE INQUIRY

The industry is a jungle, says Santaco chief

Santaco chairman Johannes Buti Mkhonza told the Gauteng commission of inquiry into taxi violence of an industry in which leaders are often forced into hiding because their lives are under threat. (Photo: Gallo images / Mitchell Krog)

South African National Taxi Council chairperson Johannes Buti Mkhonza painted a picture for the Gauteng commission of inquiry into taxi violence of an industry beset by criminality.

“We want a system that will prevent killings, not one that will clean up after dead bodies,” the chairperson of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and Ivory Park Taxi Association (IPTA), Johannes Buti Mkhonza, told the Gauteng commission of inquiry into taxi violence in Parktown, Johannesburg on Thursday.

Mkhonza painted a picture of a hostile jungle where leaders are often forced into hiding because their lives are under threat. He told the commission of the existence of syndicates which he said hijacked taxi ranks and extorted money from taxi operators.

Syndicate members turn up in the target taxi ranks armed to the teeth and immediately take over the running of the ranks — and the taxi executive committee responsible for that rank flee because they will most likely get killed if they don’t, Mkhonza said.

Mkhonza said he was aware of many executive committee members who had abandoned their taxi ranks and fled in fear of their lives because the ranks had been hijacked.

The commission asked Mkhonza why Santaco would let such a situation prevail as it was a potential catalyst for conflict.

“We are not law enforcement. We cannot go to individuals and enforce the law. We can have our constitution and stuff, but we cannot go to the ranks. We have to report such to the regulator or law enforcement,” Mkhonza told the commission.

He said Santaco that patrol vehicles, known as “squad cars”, protected commuters from criminals when they walked to catch taxis. He told the commission the squad cars also helped resolve conflict within associations.

However, according to EWN, the Gauteng Transport Department’s director for registration and monitoring Peter Dhlamini had earlier told the commission that the patrol vehicles, known as “the squad”, were a law unto themselves, terrorising operators they did not like.

Commission Chair Justice Jeremiah Shongwe asked Mkhonza if the squad cars impounded illegal operators’ vehicles within their own associations. Mkhonza replied that they did not impound vehicles from their own associations. Justice Shongwe asked why.

“Because judge, they would normally look for the vehicles with stickers from other associations and not theirs.”

Justice Shongwe then put it to Mkhonza that this was a potential source of huge conflict, to which Mkhonza agreed.

Mkhonza sought to defend the role of the Santaco squad cars, despite Gauteng transport officials, including Dhlamini, having testified how the squad cars tormented other taxi operations and motorists.

“What do squad cars do?” Justice Shongwe asked Mkhonza.

“They protect taxi routes of the associations to which they belong,” responded Mkhonza.

“Why do you need squad cars?” Justice Shongwe asked.

“We need the squad cars because they assist in monitoring drunken (taxi) drivers, controlling traffic in the morning and they also assist by taking complaints from passengers,” said Mkhonza.

Mkhonza told the commission that his leadership had warned the squad cars against impounding people’s vehicles because this was illegal. He said the squad cars continued to impound cars despite the warnings. When asked why Santaco did not stop this, Mkhonza said the industry as a whole was very difficult to control.

He told the commission that the government should educate and train squad cars, queue marshals, taxi drivers and operators.

“I have approached the government numerous times. We were just ignored,” said Mkhonza.

Educating and training taxi industry players would enhance the functioning of the industry and improve service, he said.

While most witnesses have decried the transfer of the Gauteng Transport Law Enforcement Unit to the Department of Community Safety, when Justice Shongwe asked if he would rather be rid of the squad cars and have the law enforcement unit back, Mkhonza told the commission: 

“In my area where I stay, I see one police car (in) two months. I don’t think the government would be able to deploy law enforcement in every taxi association.”

Mkhonza further told the commission that there was no process in place to prevent people not in good standing and people with criminal records from applying for taxi operating licences.

Santaco had no means of vetting aspirant taxi operators applying for taxi licences. As a result, people with a history of violence and people with previous convictions were a normal feature in the taxi sector.

According to the Ivory Park Taxi Association, a person wishing to be a member of the association is required to bring a drivers licence and to provide information on any previous convictions.

Justice Shongwe asked what Santaco was doing to promote transparency between drivers and taxi owners, considering that owners were normally not hands-on operators — only drivers are. Mkhonza said if there was a complaint against a driver, Santaco normally took the complainant’s details and communicated with the queue marshals to establish if they had witnessed the incident.

“If the case is serious we expel the driver and leave the police to deal with the case,” he said. Mkhonza said some drivers were prosecuted and received sentences, but some were acquitted because the complainants did not turn up at court.

Mkhonza’s appearance at the commission was greeted by tighter security. The Santaco chairperson was accompanied by intimidating guards wherever he went.

Mkhonza completed his testimony on Thursday.

It emerged on Thursday that the National Taxi Alliance had brought an urgent application to testify in camera. This follows delays on Monday when the inquiry adjourned after three widows who had been married to taxi owners did not testify because of safety concerns and their request to testify in camera. DM

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