South Africa

TAXI STRIKE

This is not the time to fight, pleads Mbalula

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Flickr/GCIS)

On the day before taxi operators are set to strike in Gauteng, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula made it clear that increasing the taxi relief fund is not an option and urged operators not to shut down their operations on Monday 22 June.

“We find this action rather unfortunate and counterproductive. Resorting to shutting down services as an expression of disagreement with the quantum of the amount the government is offering the industry as relief support does nothing for the industry,” Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Sunday 21 June during a virtual press briefing after announcing that government has no more money to give to the taxi industry.

This follows an announcement by Mbalula on Friday, 19 June that R1.135-billion in relief had been allocated to the taxi industry to aid thousands of taxis and their operators during the lockdown.

“Government has offered the taxi industry a relief package of R1.135-billion. Reaching agreement within government for this relief support for the taxi industry was a difficult process that involved extensive lobbying and convincing the relevant authorities on the importance and need for this fund,” Mbalula was reported as saying by News24.

This did not sit well with the South Africa National Taxi Council (Santaco), which said it would shut down operations if the government did not increase the amount of R1.135-billion.

“When you divide that money you can see that comes to about R3,000 for a driver, for two months’ salary. So, basically, we are not going to get anything out of it,” Santaco spokesman Midday Mali told Daily Maverick. “We have not been operating since 26 of March up until today. Then you come and give a once-off of R3,000. To us, it’s a slap in the face.”

Mbalula added on Sunday he was aware that the relief fund amount is not enough to compensate for the economic loss to the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Any person can see it is not enough. As minister I am telling you it is not enough, but this is not the time to fight, it’s the time to build and come together,” Mbalula said. 

“A service shutdown will not only negatively affect the working class, but will worsen the devastation of the industry,” Mabula said.

“You will never get money from the government that will pay for all the loss.”

Mali said Santaco predicts that more than 160,000 taxis will not be operating on Monday, which will seriously affect thousands of commuters who rely on taxis in Gauteng.

“There are people who could end up losing their jobs if they are late at work and we have a high rate of unemployment and we are under Covid-19 right now,” said Gauteng Transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo, who was also present at Sunday’s briefing. 

“And with many industries starting up operations again and expecting workers, this could be a challenge if workers do not go to work.”

“A service shutdown will not only negatively affect the working class, but will worsen the devastation of the industry,” Mabula said.

Taxi operators in Johannesburg issued a directive on 9 June stating that due to their losses during the Covid-19 lockdown they would increase their fares by up to 172% on 15 June.

Santaco deputy chairperson Mashishi Mashishi told SABC News that this was necessary as there was no relief fund and taxi operators were struggling.

Taxi associations operating in Johannesburg’s Alexandra to nearby Sandton announced two weeks ago their plans to increase their fares from R11 to R30. This was due to regulations that allowed taxis to carry only 70% of their maximum capacity.

The announcement of the R1.35-billion from government was meant to provide some form of relief and compensation to operators, but it had the opposite effect.

Mali said Santaco was disgruntled by the fact that for operators to qualify for the grant, the taxi operation must be formally registered as a business entity with a bank account, and must be registered for income tax and other applicable taxes.

Santaco told Daily Maverick after the minister’s briefing that they were disappointed that Mbalula had made no plans to increase the amount and they would “obviously” continue with the shutdown on Monday.

“You can’t say we need to formalise ourselves under the Covid-19 regulations, that is some red tape on its own,” Mali said. “This simply tells us that there is no money that they are going to give us.”

However, Mbalula argued against this and said that formalising the industry is part of a long-term commitment by the government to make sure the industry is subsidised.

“While others see formalisation as a challenge, there is no doubt that it is central to the long-term objectives of sustainable economic growth of a sunrise industry such as the taxi industry,” Mbalula said.

Santaco told Daily Maverick after the minister’s briefing that they were disappointed that Mbalula had made no plans to increase the amount and they would “obviously” continue with the shutdown on Monday.

Mamabolo told media he was confident that law enforcement would be able to deal with any “acts of violence”.

The Gauteng National Taxi Alliance (NTA) has said it will continue operations on Monday. 

“We hope that this does not set back that unity in the taxi industry that we have been working so hard to build,” Mamabolo said. 

“We don’t know what will happen, but the culture and history of the taxi industry are that under these conditions there are difficulties. So, we just hope that law enforcement will be able to prevail over anything that could be a loss to our country.”

Mbalula said: “Obviously, where the law is being undermined, action will be taken, but everyone has the right to protest but not to infringe on the rights of others.

“However, we are convinced that there is no basis for any kind of shutdown, and we appeal to the leadership of the taxi industry to discourage any such actions and give space to ongoing discussions.” DM

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