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Officials play blame game over Western Cape taxi strike as commuters suffer

Officials play blame game over Western Cape taxi strike as commuters suffer
Protesters block the entrance to Masiphumelele informal settlement in Cape Town with burning tyres and rocks preventing residents from going to work during a protest action on 8 August 2023. The violence and chaos come as a result of taxi strike across the Cape, following a dispute between Santaco and the City of Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

On the sixth day of the Western Cape taxi strike, the word ‘arrogance’ was bandied about during two separate media briefings by national government officials on Tuesday. While there seem to be differences of interpretation over the implementation of the law, there have been pleas for the City of Cape Town to return to the negotiating table. 

While Tuesday was a far quieter day on the streets of the Western Cape, politicians from the national government and the City of Cape Town blasted each other over the volatile taxi strike.

City officials maintained the law was being enforced, but Police Minister Bheki Cele and Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga insisted their approach to the dispute was defined by “arrogance”.

A normally reserved Chikunga launched a blistering attack on Cape Town officials during a media briefing in Johannesburg.

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga earlier this week. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu)

“The MMC responsible for safety and security in the Western Cape said that for one truck that is burned, they are going to impound 25 taxis,” said Chikunga, in reference to JP Smith’s comments last week.

Smith said at the time he had been asked by Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis to ensure that violence in the public transport sector was met with an appropriate response. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Taxi industry and City of Cape Town harden their stances amid strike violence and mayhem

“No, you cannot say that,” Chikunga said.

“As wrong as it is to torch taxis, you cannot, therefore, say [that you must impound taxis] randomly because you are confirming the fact that it is alleged that your impoundment is not referred by any law. You are just doing it. And this is what is frustrating the taxi industry,” the minister added. 

“The City is so arrogant [that] they decided they are not going to participate in the negotiations,” she said.

The City and the Western Cape government have been in negotiations with the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), which is leading the strike. The City has made several concessions, but negotiations have so far failed to resolve the dispute and officials have withdrawn while the violence continues.

Chikunga said she would return to Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon to continue negotiations.

She did not mince her words when it came to Smith: “To that JP Smith, you are not the law, you are simply an MMC, and if everybody in the Western Cape is afraid of you, we are not afraid of you.” 

During the briefing, Chikunga urged the City to return to the negotiating table to “address the areas of disagreement and demonstrate a genuine effort to find a lasting resolution to the current challenges”.

She then called on the City to release all impounded taxis without any conditions. 

In response, Smith asked whether the minister was “trying to incite further violence by making false statements”. 

He claimed that “no minibus taxi has ever been impounded within Cape Town, because of a by-law”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Why Santaco views taxi strike as more than just a fight against a new City of Cape Town by-law

The City maintains it has been impounding taxis under the national Land Transport Act and not its new by-law.

Hill-Lewis said it would be “outside of the law” for the City to release vehicles that have been impounded for a traffic offence, as only the “director of public prosecutions can do that”. 

Hill-Lewis said: “Asking me to do that is asking us to disregard the law. The minister doesn’t have that power. I don’t have that power, and frankly, it’s surprising that a minister of state would make such a call, or, in fact, a demand that someone should ignore the law and ignore her own Act.”

Cele briefing 

Accusations of arrogance also emerged during Police Minister Bheki Cele’s briefing at the Cape Town station deck on Tuesday afternoon.

Police Minister General Bheki Cele addresses the media about the ongoing taxi strike at the Cape Town station deck on 8 August 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The regular taxi commuters were replaced by a large security detail as well as officials from the City, including Hill-Lewis and Western Cape MEC for Police Oversight and Community Safety, Reagan Allen. 

Cele confirmed that five people had died in the violence related to the taxi strike.

He said 120 people have been arrested since 3 August on various charges including malicious damage to property, public violence and looting. 

Fifty-three taxis have been impounded. 

City officials questioned why Cele was present at Santaco’s meeting on 3 August in Khayelitsha. The strike was declared after the meeting. Cele said he was approached by community members to attend the meeting.

“At no point will I, as national minister of police, agitate for a strike, as has been suggested by officials of the City of Cape Town,” Cele said. 

The minister’s briefing turned tense as Cele and Hill-Lewis both kept trying to get their point across regarding the impounding of taxis, Cele’s appearance at the taxi meeting and the need to negotiate. 

Police Minister General Bheki Cele shakes hands with Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis after a press briefing about the ongoing taxi strike in Cape Town on 8 August 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

At one point, Hill-Lewis said: “You negotiate with criminals … we won’t.” 

Cele then said specific issues around the costs of impoundments must be taken to the negotiating table.

“My only argument here is that people must calm down on their high horses and swallow their arrogance and talk on behalf of people that are suffering,” the minister said.

Masiphumelele disrupted 

While political disputes over the taxi strike made headlines, some suburbs in Cape Town saw sporadic disruptions on Tuesday.

In the morning, law enforcement officials attended to reports of unrest in Masiphumelele on the Cape Peninsula. While there were incidents of stone-throwing and tyres being burnt, the situation calmed down later. 

When Daily Maverick arrived just after 1pm, there was smouldering debris on Pokela Road – one of the roads into the area which runs alongside the taxi rank and perpendicular to Kommetjie Road. According to people on the scene, taxi drivers had been trying to prevent people from entering or leaving the township. 

“They were burning some tyres and they were blocking the road… the fire was in the middle of the road,” said Yolanda Chauke, a resident of Masiphumelele.

She said things had been relatively quiet in the area up until Tuesday morning.

The taxi strike will continue on Wednesday with normal operations expected to resume on Thursday.

The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture confirmed on Tuesday that President Cyril Ramaphosa would no longer be giving his Women’s Day address in Khayelitsha on Wednesday due to the volatility of the area. DM

Additional reporting by Tamsin Metelerkamp 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Sune, if you watched the two ministers and the ANC Western Cape media briefings yesterday, you would clearly have seen the arrogance, hostility and and anti DA stance and conduct conducive to instigating violence from the ANC side. This is without doubt political interference in the Western Cape. Why secret talks with the Taxi industry? JP Smith threat is not right , I agree. Surely DM could have verified the factuality of the law officials impoundment of vehicles. It is not difficult for you to do. You are now also becoming part of this, by taking sides. Denise Smit

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “we are not afraid of you”

    These words by minister Chikunge are defining.

    Is she a member of Santaco?

    Or is she so lost in political and racial bias that she is prepared to let criminality destroy what is left of our country FOR EVERYONE.

    Both are sadly very possible scenarios in this gangster state we call home.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “My only argument here is that people must calm down on their high horses and swallow their arrogance and talk on behalf of people that are suffering,” the minister said.

    There is no free lunch here Mr Cele. You and the ANC have created a gangster state. If the country is ever to be saved we ALL need to pay the price. And believe me we ALL are.

    So just do your damned job and enforce the law.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    ANC = Trillions of Rands lost, for EVERYONE.

    Is there no end to the ignorance of people in this country?

    Vote for law and order. This is our last chance to save our country for ourselves and all our children.

    Vote DA!!!!!!

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Cape Town insisting that the taxi industry there obeys the rules of the road as all other road-users are required to do, is arrogance?

    Because that is the sole responsibility of national government and they refuse to do so everywhere else?

    It is outrageous that, in the one province that recognises that the lawless taxi industry is a major force and cause in civil unrest and needs appropriate rules and regulations to be enforced, is deemed by the Minister-in-the-hat, to be arrogant because they are doing what he should do, but simply lacks the courage to so do?

    Mr President, someone needs firing – and the whole of South Africa, except seemingly you, knows who this must be.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Do what they do in the UK – when a vehicle has been seized for license and insurance offences , the owner has 14 days to pay the fines and provide a valid license and insurance, failure to do so and the vehicle gets crushed!

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