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‘A great relief’ — Santaco calls off Western Cape taxi strike

‘A great relief’ — Santaco calls off Western Cape taxi strike
Taxis around the CBD at the start of the taxi strike on 1 August 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

Santaco called off its taxi strike in the Western Cape on Thursday evening, saying it would use the next 14 days to work on releasing vehicles that had been wrongfully impounded.

The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has called off its provincial stayaway following successful negotiations with the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town.

“First and foremost, on behalf of Santaco Western Cape, I convey our sincerest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives during the stayaway,” said Santaco chairperson Mandla Hermanus in a statement on Thursday evening.

“We stand with you in this time of grief and offer our profound sympathies. We also extend our heartfelt sympathy to everyone who was negatively affected by the events of the past days.”

taxi strike

Santaco Western Cape chairperson Mandla Hermanus. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

Hermanus said it saddened and disappointed Santaco that it had taken so long for all parties to find a resolution. Five people died in incidents directly related to the strike, which started on 3 August, as violence engulfed parts of Cape Town, while commuters across the province were left stranded and services were interrupted.

“The wellbeing of our community and the public at large has always been our top priority, and it pains us to witness the unnecessary pain and suffering that transpired.”

He said it had been agreed that the next 14 days would be used to work towards the release of the vehicles that had been wrongfully impounded.

‘Thank you for your patience’

“In conclusion, a heartfelt thank you goes out to each and every one of you for your patience, resilience, and unwavering resolve during these challenging times. We pledge our ongoing commitment to serve our communities with integrity, ensuring such incidents do not repeat in the future.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape Taxi Strike

In a video posted shortly after the announcement, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis called the end of the strike a “great relief”.

“We have reached agreement and the taxi strike is over,” he said.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Mayor of Cape Town Geordin Hill-Lewis, Dean Michael Weeder of St George's Cathedral and Santaco Western Cape chairperson Mandla Hermanus

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Mayor of Cape Town Geordin Hill-Lewis, Dean Michael Weeder of St George’s Cathedral and Santaco Western Cape chairperson Mandla Hermanus hold candles while praying for a peaceful resolution to the taxi strike, 9 August 2023. (Photo: Brenton Geach / Gallo Images)

In its meeting on Tuesday, 8 August, the Cabinet discussed the impasse between Santaco and the City of Cape Town, “which has escalated into a violent strike as a result of the impounding of taxi vehicles by the city,” Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said at a media briefing on Thursday morning.

“Cabinet condemns the violence and anarchy in Cape Town and has called on Santaco to ensure that its protest action is peaceful and does not interfere with the rights of others. In this regard, we have noted that there were no violent incidents in the last 48 hours.

“However, members of the South African Police Service and other law enforcement agencies have been directed to [ensure the] violent situation is under control to allow residents safe movement to school, work and their normal daily activities,” she continued.

On Wednesday, the taxi council announced that the strike would continue while it pursued legal action against the city.

While the violence and disruption disproportionately affected working-class commuters, the unrest drew international attention this week, with Sky News reporting that a British man holidaying in South Africa had been killed during the violence.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Taxi strike impact — Matric learners threatened at rank, almost half a million blocked from Western Cape schools

Whose law is it? 

Ntshavheni said that, in its meeting, the Cabinet was also briefed about Cape Town’s “imposing of taxi operating conditions which are at variance” with national legislation. This includes the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996, and the National Land Transport Act 5 of 2009, which regulate the traffic offences and applicable penalties — including the impounding of vehicles.

The statement by the Cabinet seemed to suggest that Cape Town’s by-law is at odds with national legislation, and should therefore be removed.

Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga during a visit to the Free State on June 05, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw)

The Cabinet has directed the transport minister, Sindisiwe Chikunga, “to ensure that any taxi operating conditions that contradict the laws of the republic are removed”.

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

If the minister cannot persuade the municipality to remove the by-law, the matter is likely to be heard in court.

The National Land Transport Act gives three instances where a public transport vehicle can be impounded:

  • If it is unroadworthy;
  • If it is driven without a valid operating licence; and
  • If it is driven by a driver without a valid licence and professional driving permit.

The municipality has moved further and included minor infringements which would have resulted in only a fine to be impoundable offences. These include missing number plates or not having number plates securely fixed in place, unroadworthy vehicles, vehicles with defective lights, or vehicles that aren’t up to original SABS specifications and have been illegally modified.

The by-law also covers those participating in illegal street racing.

The City of Cape Town has consistently said the new traffic by-law, which came into effect in July, has not been used to impound any vehicles, yet the mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said on his Facebook page that the city had been receiving praise since it started impounding vehicles under the new by-law.

Minibus taxis blocking the road at the Airport Approach, Borcherds Quarry

Minibus taxis blocking the road at the Airport Approach, Borcherds Quarry exit, are seized on Day 5 of the minibus taxi strike on 7 August 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Cosatu calls for CCMA intervention

While the dispute continued, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) stated that it had written to the director of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), along with the ministers of police and transport, the Western Cape premier and Cape Town mayor, advocating for the urgent intervention of the CCMA in negotiations.

“The federation is appalled by the horrific levels of violence where workers have been injured and, tragically, five lives have been lost. Millions of workers are struggling to get to work and earn a salary and take care of their families.

“Bus drivers have been shot at and are living in fear for their lives. Traffic officers have been assaulted. Business owners have lost property and will struggle to pay staff. All of these are having a devastating impact on workers, learners, students and the economy,” it stated.

Cosatu described the taxi industry as the “backbone of public transport” and one of the few “black-led industries”, which had received “little support from the state compared to the huge subsidies that other modes of transportation receive.

“We believe that the concerns of the taxi industry need to be engaged upon and resolved; namely, their belief that the city has been excessive in its impounding of taxis,” it stated.

“We appreciate the need for the city to enforce compliance with legislation by all parties and to protect the lives and property of all commuters and the public.”

In the long term, there needs to be a national discussion about formalising the taxi industry, Cosatu said. It claimed that this could improve both support for and regulation of the sector.

“Taxi drivers are subject to unacceptable levels of exploitation in violation of our labour laws,” it stated. “At the heart of the interminable crisis in the taxi industry is that taxi owners demand drivers deliver exorbitant fees to them daily and only after they have paid these are the drivers and other taxi workers then paid. This is why drivers then feel the need to drive as fast as possible to ensure that they are able to collect enough fares daily to then be able to take care of their families.”

Commuters help push a child through a bus window for a space in the bus. Buses were overloaded as thousands of commuters were caught by surprise at the start of the taxi strike last week. 03 August 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Impact on schooling

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union in the Western Cape (Sadtu Western Cape) released a statement on Thursday condemning the impact of the strike on “poor, working-class learners” who are still feeling the impacts of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It had called on the taxi industry to respect the right to education by declaring schools, public institutions and social services “immune” to the strike action.

“Taxi drivers and owners should play an active role in ensuring that schools are safe spaces for the children of their clients, which is the community,” it stated.

“The ensuing strike once more shows the great divide between the previously advantaged white schools and the poor, working-class schools, where the teachers and learners from townships must bear the brunt of the strike.”

Sadtu called on the head of the Western Cape Education Department to reprimand directors, circuit managers and other officials who put pressure on principals and teachers to get to schools when conditions were unsafe.

“The union cannot understand how some circuit managers are putting pressure on principals to ensure that teachers and education workers report to school when conditions are unsafe and workers fear to leave their homes,” it stated.

“While we are cognisant of hunger experienced by many learners at their homes, and the need to feed them at schools, the safety of the teachers, support staff and food handlers must remain a priority. The lives of all education personnel are not for sale to score political battles between the two parties that are in conflict.”

The union noted that a “criminal element” had been taking advantage of the taxi strike, adding that communities should report the actions of those who aimed to damage local infrastructure.

“We call upon the City of Cape Town as well as all municipalities to deploy law enforcement in all areas that are hotspots for the violence and the criminal elements, irrespective of the colour and poor social status of the areas where the violence is experienced,” it concluded.

Because of the strike, 728,247 learners stayed home from school on Thursday.

Western Cape Minister of Education David Maynier said that 60% of the learners in Western Cape schools were absent on Thursday. In addition, 12,026 staff members (21.5%) were absent and 48 schools were closed (3.1%).

“While there are circumstances in which teachers and staff cannot safely get to school, there are those that are fortunate to travel safely to their place of work. It has been wonderful to hear stories of teachers’ genuine and real concern for their learners over the past week, particularly for our matriculants, who will be writing mock matric exams soon,” Maynier said. DM

Additional reporting by Chuma Nontsele


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • L Dennis says:

    I applaud Santaco and the DA for coming to the table to end this crisis. I also appreciate all the prayers and religious leaders that got involved. God bless this beautiful country.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      See, where I come from its called crime. So, as long as this table is in prison, I likewise applaud the DA.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      See, where I come from its called crime, and it’s breaking our economy. So on the understanding that the table for all offenders is in prison and this outcome is actively pushed by both Santaco and the DA I likewise applaud them all.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    With the exception of what the teachers said, the hypocrisy of all others is outrageous and mind boggling. The blatant lies and exaggeration leaves me dumbfounded that they think that they can get away with saying these things, and even more puzzled that there are a huge number of citizens who actually believe this. And all perfectly avoidable. If I’m correct, nothing that was offered by the DA mayor almost 10 days ago actually changed. “The only black-led industry in SA?” Don’t make me laugh. Utter drivel by stupid, power hungry people who don’t give a damn.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Whatever happens into the future we must hope that leadership will accept that violence achieves little of good and much harm, particularly to the poor, who bear its brunt!

  • Sa Ce says:

    In your article you state: “The National Land Transport Act gives three instances where a public transport vehicle can be impounded:
    If it is unroadworthy;
    If it is driven without a valid operating licence; and
    If it is driven by a driver without a valid licence and professional driving permit.
    The municipality has moved further and included minor infringements which would have resulted in only a fine to be impoundable offences. These include missing number plates or not having number plates securely fixed in place, unroadworthy vehicles, vehicles with defective lights, or vehicles that aren’t up to original SABS specifications and have been illegally modified.”
    1. There is a direct contradiction in the second paragraph regarding ‘unroadworthy vehicles’ (i.e. they are already impoundable in terms of the Transport Act).
    2. If one looks at the criteria for ‘roadworthiness’ this includes ‘minor’ criteria such as defective lights (which could well cause an accident).
    3. The bylaw makes it easier for traffic officials to impound vehicles ‘on the spot’; it includes impounding vehicles where the driver has no license or is intoxicated, but a main difference is that it now includes PRIVATE vehicles.
    Your article just adds to the confusion and misleads unfortunately.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Am I right in concluding that when the Ministers got involved the situation got worse. Santaco decided not to accept the City of Cape Town offer. Violenced increased, people got murdered, even a prominent British doctor ( how good for South Africa image). South Africa is off the international tourist map ( do you think foreign tourists will think it is better in other parts of SA.? Well done ANC. Mission accomplished. Denise Smit

  • David Amato says:

    Nice to see a mention of the drivers for a change, they are the ones who are forced to disregard traffic rules to make profit for the taxi owner working under very poor conditions not under the basic conditions of employment.

  • A Fer says:

    I must say I am disappointed by the reporting on this issue by the writers of the articles dealing with the taxi strike.
    This article quotes extensively from Santaco, Minister of Transport and Cosatu but doesn’t quote from the City or the Province.
    There is to my mind a significant bias displayed by the writers in promoting what Santaco say whilst ignoring the view of the City. It’s telling that the statement from the Mayor that the concessions offered last Friday are the same as agreed to yesterday. So the last week of thuggery was all for nothing as Santaco got nothing by holding out.
    Why would DM not point this out? It’s important for readers to know this to get a better view of situation.
    I think the editor needs to look a bit more closely at the writers’ treatment of the story.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    Absolutely agree. How is it that the “black – led industry” is exploiting it’s own workers in contravention of labor laws? And the consolation by SANTACO’s Hermanus for those who lost their lives when they lit the flame, and the real innocents where exposed to rampaging violence that followed. It seems there is no right or wrong – just expediency in the mind of these taxi association rationalizations.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    I agree with the comments on the bias of the report. Most unlike DM. Job well done, the only thing the ANC can accomplish is to cause chaos, and various ministers joined in with gusto. Starting with Cele at Santaco meeting? What the hell? Bloody taxi owners exploiting their own, drivers behaving recklessly, but somehow the city manages to be painted as the bad guys? Seriously.

  • Dominic Rooney says:

    Am interested to see Cosatu jumping in – should they not be pushing to develop a trade union for the drivers, instead of batting for the owners ? If drivers had better job conditions and job security (typically the benefits of being members of a union) the rampant exploitation of drivers would be removed or at least reduced.

  • David Marais says:

    Both the National Minister and your reporters should check what the requirements for a roadworthy vehicle are. The minor infringements listed like defective lights, no or lose number plates, cracked or broken windscreens and illegal modifications to the vehicle which are not certified by a competent mechanical engineer will preclude you from getting a proper and valid roadworthy certificate. Reporting team get your facts sorted!

  • William Stucke says:

    A very biased and one-sided article. Not good, DM. You can do better. Much better.

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