Taxi drivers blockade Eastern Cape roads to demand ‘unpaid’ scholar transport fees
In a six-hour standoff over what taxi drivers said were unpaid scholar transport fees, several major routes in the Eastern Cape, including the N2, were blocked by taxis and trucks on Thursday morning.
For about six hours on Thursday, several roads in the Eastern Cape, including the N2 at Dutywa, between Mthatha and Kokstad and between Mount Ayliff and Mount Frere, the R56 near Matatiele and the R61 at Cofimvaba, were closed by angry taxi drivers who maintained they were owed money for scholar transport contracts.
Traffic was backed up for kilometres as law enforcement and government officials negotiated for the roads to be opened.
A statement issued by Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s office said that taxi bosses “kidnapped” truck drivers in order to use the vehicles to block the roads. But the Eastern Cape chairperson of the South African National Taxi Council, Santaco, said they were not involved in the hijacking of any trucks.
The Santaco official said they had suspended the strike and would meet the provincial government at 2pm on Monday. New contracts for scholar transport in the province are due to commence on 1 April.
According to the statement from Mabuyane’s office, the premier has directed the provincial department of transport t0 engage with the local taxi industry to resolve outstanding issues.
“I wish to appeal to Santaco to open up all roads in line with our discussion and my commitment to them, as the MEC is preparing to convene a special meeting with the sector.”
The standoff continued until the afternoon.
“The Premier has apologised to the citizens affected by the road closures and disruptions to travel plans in the province,” the statement continued.
After 2pm, the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape transport department, Unathi Binqose, said all the roads that were closed had been reopened.
“Our sincere apologies go out to all the road users that were affected. We also call on protestors to come to the negotiating table rather than go to the public roads.
“We have not received any correspondence from them about grievances or the reasons for the strike. But rumour has it that they are complaining about the non-payment of January invoices. We are saying there are no outstanding claims – all the legitimate ones have been paid. Only the disputed ones are yet to be paid.
“We are calling on them to supply supporting documents for the payments to be processed. It is not unique to them for us to ask for supporting documents.”
In November 2022, the provincial MEC for Transport, Xolile Nqatha, said in reply to a question in the Eastern Cape legislature that the province owed taxi owners R403-million in outstanding scholar transport fees.
He said 502 invoices worth R14-million would have been paid by the beginning of December, and another 428 invoices worth R9-million would have been paid during December, leaving 608 unpaid invoices in the amount of R16.6-million. DM/MC