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The way forward: Taxi bodies to reimagine the future

The way forward: Taxi bodies to reimagine the future
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula during the release of the National Taxi Lekgotla discussion documents at Tshedimosetso House. (Photo: Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)

Over the next weeks, all nine provinces will host discussions at a planned taxi lekgotla, as announced by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. Taxi organisations say this is the first step towards formalising and professionalising the highly contested industry.

The plan for a national taxi lekgotla has been welcomed by two of the biggest representatives – the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) and the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco). 

On Friday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced the release of the discussion documents for the planned taxi lekgotla, which is due to take place at the end of October. The minister told journalists: “The history of the taxi industry is littered with gruesome tales of conflicts and violence that has left many people dead and families robbed of breadwinners… it is a history of struggles for survival.” 

Mbalula said the industry has the potential to become a “model for real empowerment… this is an industry that generates revenue in excess of R40-billion per annum and consumes more than 2.1 billion litres of fuel per annum”. 

The lekgotla was initially due to take place in April, but due to Covid-19 restrictions on movement, it was pushed back to October, when South Africa observes Transport Month. The discussion documents, which are open to the public, focus on empowerment, leadership and unity within the industry, taxi industry customer care and professionalisation and taxi industry regulation

NTA spokesperson Theo Malele told Daily Maverick the alliance welcomed attempts to formalise and professionalise the industry. Malele said the alliance would observe stringent protocols for the hearings, due to Covid-19 gathering restrictions, but they questioned “if the public purse is still in a good space” to carry the costs of physical hearings and the hygiene costs associated with it. Malele said “everybody has to be on board” for the lekgotla and the resolutions or recommendations that come out of it, otherwise it would be a “waste of taxpayers’ money”. 

Santaco spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa echoed Malele’s statement that they welcomed the lekgotla. “We embrace the process and the interventions of the minister,” said Molelekwa. 

While the industry is regulated according to its own standards, Molelekwa said formalisation and empowerment were lacking. “The lekgotla is compelled to make a difference,” said Molelekwa, but added that this would only be possible if the government was serious about this issue. 

Molelekwa told Daily Maverick there should be “clearly defined rules of engagement” at the lekgotla, especially on empowerment, as “we want to take ownership of the industry”. The lekgotla should pave the way for real economic empowerment in the industry, said Molelekwa, especially in the areas of public integration networks, where only buses and trains are given government subsidies, but the taxi industry is not given subsidies or ownership in public transport integration projects. 

Molelekwa told Daily Maverick that Santaco wanted the government “to give Santaco teeth – teeth to govern the industry the way it should”. 

At the briefing, Mbalula said the department was inviting all South Africans to contribute to the conversations surrounding the future of the taxi industry. 

“Starting from the coming week, we will engage with stakeholders and civil society through various platforms that include all forms of media, from print, radio and TV… digital platforms that include social media and webinars.”  

The provincial lekgotlas are scheduled to be held between 20 September and 20 October, with the national taxi lekgotla taking place on 29 October.

“We want the voices of every operator, driver, commuter and any South African who believes they can contribute solutions to be heard,” said the minister. DM

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