Western Cape counts cost of taxi war as ordinary citizens left reeling from Santaco-DA-ANC political crossfire

Western Cape counts cost of taxi war as ordinary citizens left reeling from Santaco-DA-ANC political crossfire
Cape Town commuters scramble to get on a bus at Golden Arrow Bus Station on 3 August 2023. Many people were stranded because of the Santaco taxi strike. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

As the province comes to terms with the lives lost, the loss of millions in revenue for the taxi industry, the damage to the economy, and the violence and looting, discord simmers between the DA-run City of Cape Town and the ANC national government as the 2024 general election looms.

Even though the taxi strike in the Western Cape is over, the taxi industry has lost tens of millions in revenue and Cape Town is reeling in the aftermath.

The province is still taking stock of the economic impact of the strike and the loss of five lives, including the killing of a British doctor, which will probably leave a blot on South Africa’s name.

“We lost R15-million per day,” said Nceba Enge, first deputy chairperson of the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), during a press conference that was held a day after the strike was called off. “Lives were lost, too, and those can never be replaced.”

Taxi operators stopped work for eight days in an effort to persuade the City of Cape Town to relax a by-law that has led to their vehicles being impounded. Commuters could not go to work for days on end and those who tried to do so were intimidated.

Eventually, the strike became a breeding ground for violence and looting. In addition, Santaco members were confirmed to have brought rifles to the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where negotiations were taking place. This was also where the Netball World Cup was being hosted.

The MEC for mobility, Ricardo Mackenzie, spoke against such conduct.

“The strike has been devastating. There are a lot of lessons to be taken from here. Violence is not the way to solve the problems. We’ve done this since 1994.

“This matter could have been resolved a week ago. Bringing rifles outside the meeting is un­­acceptable during the Netball World Cup,” he said.

On 7 August, the UK issued foreign travel advice that mentioned the dangers that the strike could cause.

“There are ongoing minicab taxi strikes in the Cape Town area. These strikes have the potential to turn violent and may impact multiple areas including journeys to and from the airport … Be aware that GPS services could divert you into less secure areas or into ongoing protests,” it read.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape taxi strike updates

The same day, a 40-year-old British ­surgeon, Kar Hao Teoh, was shot dead after taking a wrong turn on his way from the airport.

The decision to call off what had become a protracted strike was taken late in the evening on Thursday, 10 August, but tension still seemed apparent at a press briefing the next morning as Santaco continued to contradict the City of Cape Town. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

It was announced that all stakeholders would meet to decide which laws should be changed to reach a peaceful resolution.

Santaco’s Enge thanked the City for “nodding” to its request to release vehicles that had been impounded under City regulations not included in national law.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, on the other hand, said that if Santaco felt vehicles had been impounded outside national law, it should produce evidence to be presented to a prosecutor, who could release the vehicles.

A major part of the agreement was that Santaco would never again declare an immediate strike – it would give at least 36 hours’ notice. This is to prevent a repeat of the ugly scenes of thousands of people being forced to walk home.

Second, there would be a mechanism to ­enable disputes to be taken directly to the premier and the mayor before a strike is considered. Santaco requested that a representative of national government be part of the task team that is being formed, and this was agreed.

taxi strike

Protesters block the entrance to Masiphumelele informal settlement in Cape Town with burning tyres and rocks on 8 August 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Cape Town taxi strike bus

A bus was set slight and the driver shot in Khayelitsha as the taxi strike entered its second day. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Mayhem and loss of life

What was initially announced as a simple stayaway by the biggest public transport association in the country turned into mayhem and loss of life.

Santaco, which represents eight regional taxi associations, met in Makhaza, Cape Town, on 3 August to discuss tension between the industry and the Western Cape government, and the City of Cape Town in particular.

The stayaway was sparked by what Santaco called a “frivolous [taxi] impoundment operation by the government”. A clash between taxi operators and law enforcement officers on 1 August influenced the decision to go on strike.

Although the focal point of the strike was the City’s new traffic by-law, which came into effect in July, the hostility between Santaco and the municipality is nothing new.

The by-law gives municipal officials the power not only to fine offenders, but also to impound vehicles for what are considered to be minor infringements by the National Road Traffic Act.

Under the Act, drivers who are not carrying their licences are fined and allowed to go. Under the new by-law, drivers not only get fined, but their vehicles are also impounded.

Other offences that now result in both a fine and vehicle impoundment include missing numberplates or not having numberplates securely attached, unroadworthy vehicles, vehicles with defective lights and vehicles that have been illegally modified. The by-law also covers illegal street racing.

JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security. (Photo: ER Lombard / Gallo Images)

“With the harsh action intended to bring about lasting reform, the amended traffic by-law is the long-awaited answer to the majority of lawful motorists who long to see an improvement in road safety,” said JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security.

Santaco claims the by-law is specifically designed to target the taxi industry, which Smith vehemently denies.

Mandla Hermanus, Santaco’s Western Cape chair, says: “Since the beginning of the year, 6,000 taxis have been impounded, which amounts to 1,000 taxis a month.

“The numbers … paint a very clear picture of what we as the taxi industry have been saying all along: these operations are nothing more than a deliberate attempt to destroy the taxi industry in the province with no regard to the impact that this action will have on the communities that we service.”

Hermanus said Santaco was not opposed to the lawful impoundment of vehicles under the National Land Transport Act, which provides for vehicles to be impounded if they are unroadworthy or driven without a valid licence or professional driving permit.

Analyst Asanda Ngoasheng believes the DA tends to go overboard in formulating laws and neglects the fact that South Africa is not a federal state. She also believes the DA tends to be discriminatory in how it implements its rules.

She says the DA has to accept that the ANC, as the national government, will have the final say on laws, and the DA cannot create a separate country within South Africa.

“I think that one of the biggest issues we have is that we have a DA that models itself around US kind of politics which are based on federalism, and they are constantly pushing the envelope on what is and is not possible in SA’s provincial structure,” she says.

A family in the vicinity of Crossroads asked for a police escort after their car with four occupants, including two children, was stoned. One of the children was injured. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

President Ramaphosa weighs in

While delivering the keynote address at this year’s Women’s Day celebrations, President Cyril Ramaphosa explained that the event had been moved from Khayelitsha in the Western Cape to the Union Buildings in Pretoria because of the taxi strike.

“While our democracy protects peaceful protest and lawful strike action, we strongly condemn the violence and destruction caused by this dispute,” he said.

He was “appalled” by the killings, assaults and disruptions.

“Blocked roads lead to blocked business, blocked education and blocked health services, which will have long-lasting effects on life in the city. We must uphold the law and we must solve problems through meaningful dialogue,” he said.

The Minister of Transport, Sindisiwe Chikunga, described Cape Town’s new by-law as illegal and was instructed by the Cabinet to challenge it. Sources close to the minister said she had received legal advice to take the matter to court if she could not convince the municipality to drop it.

Santaco has for years enjoyed a cordial relationship with the former transport minister and current ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula. He speaks the language of the taxi drivers, and many taxi owners have links with the governing party.

Another person who could calm the taxi association was former transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela. (He resigned after a Daily Maverick investigation found that he had lied about his qualifications.) He never let matters get out of hand and, although he rebuked the industry for violence its protests caused, he and the industry always found a way to negotiate.

Santaco has said it does not feel that the current transport MEC, Mackenzie, is the man in charge and has said he always has to consult Smith before making responses.

Smith has taken a hard line on the industry and is seen as the main enemy by taxi bosses. He exacerbated tension when he announced that he had been directed by Hill-Lewis to impound 25 taxis for every vehicle torched during the strike.

The mayor has since had to clarify that the statement meant every taxi involved in the blocking of roads would be impounded.

Commuters help push a child through the window to get a space in the bus on 3 August 2023 in Cape Town. Buses were overloaded due to the taxi strike. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

A body lies at the Borchards Quarry at the entrance to Nyanga on the fifth day of the taxi strike. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Politicians playing politics

Since the beginning of the strike, the Western Cape provincial government and the leadership of the Cape Town Metro have not been able to find alignment with the national government.

Two ANC ministers, Chikunga and Minister of Police Bheki Cele, seem to be of the firm belief that the DA-run Western Cape government is at fault, but Hill-Lewis and his colleagues have stood their ground.

This disagreement can be seen either as a genuine crisis caused by the new by-law or as a way for political parties to score points ahead of the 2024 general elections.

DA provincial leader and infrastructure MEC Tertius Simmers issued a statement in which he accused the ANC of intentionally sowing discord in the province.

“ANC Minister of Police Bheki Cele attends a meeting with the taxi industry. A violent strike follows immediately. All the usual suspects are on the bandwagon – numerous RET factions, the EFF, political has-beens, and politicians continuously biting in the dust of DA progress.

“And then, to crown the outrageous behaviour, ANC Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga sides with those who wilfully break the very law she is charged to uphold!

“The ANC, incredibly yet expectedly, is banking on [getting] political mileage from the ­chaos.”

Political analyst Levy Ndou conceded that there was a possibility that those opposed to the DA’s leadership in the Western Cape could use the strike to show that the DA seemed anti-poor and out to punish the taxi industry.

He said: “This shows a disconnect between ordinary people and those in government…

“This situation is difficult because the DA is trying to do things according to the laws but, at the same time, people in the taxi industry are referred to as a law unto themselves; they are used to being bullies.

“We [also] need to ask if the impounding of cars was the only solution by the City of Cape Town.”

Ngoasheng argued that there was nothing sinister about how the ANC ministers had dealt with the matter. Instead, she said she believed there was a lack of empathy with the manner in which the DA dealt with any matter involving black people.

“The language they use is language that discredits, disrespects; it is a language which demonises people who are in some ways fighting for the legitimate right to be able to continue their business without having their vehicles impounded,” she said.

“I do not think that the ANC is using the matter to score political points and discredit the DA because they are not in a position to do so. Apartheid spatial planning … is such that the people who are most affected are black and coloured people.

“Anything that affects taxis will affect ANC voters, so they would not, so close to 2024, even dare try a strategy of abandoning South Africans.”

In the season leading up to elections, all political parties will escalate acts of brinkmanship and grandstanding to woo voters.

If the ANC continues to lose support in the Western Cape, that could make the difference, in a tight election, between the ANC governing the country outright and having to form a coalition.

But the price of playing power politics while cities burn is shown by the taxi strike. Everyone loses when things fall apart and anarchy reigns. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • cherylmarais says:

    Asanda, yours is not an analysis, it is an opinion.

  • jacquelinemfourie says:

    Ngoasheng is painfully naive and clearly an ANC supporter and a DA antagonist. It would be very interesting to see what factual data, not propoganda, this analyst has used to base their comments on.

  • John Kannemeyer says:

    This piece still peddles the narrative that impounding Taxis is a CoCT concocted by-law. This is fake information, it is a National Law. The by-law was that impounding includes private vehicles.

    • Judith Heunis says:

      My reaction too. The mayor explained very clearly and credibly that under the NLTA, vehicles may be impounded if they contravene their license conditions and those conditions include roadworthiness of vehicles, licensed drivers, adherence to rules of the road etc etc and so the by-law has not been used for impoundment. I find it disappointing that the incorrect narrative, which the National Minister also used, is still being quoted as fact in this usually trustworthy publication.

  • John Smythe says:

    It’s time that taxi commuters also stop behaving like sheep and push back at the taxi industry when they don’t obey the rules of the road and don’t abide by 3 basic rules of the NLTA. Our domestic worker was manhandled several times into the taxi by taxi drivers she knew were road pigs, where drunk and whose vehicles were dangerously overloaded or not roadworthy. Commuters need to stand together and say; “this far and no further”.
    But alas, they won’t.

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    Thank you to the DA everyone involved that solved the issue. Attempts to sow discord failed and their evil efforts were put to shame. God bless our beautiful country and those who are there to build it up for future generations. Nkosi sikelel iafrica

  • Alan Salmon says:

    This article is complete BS. The ANC are weak on law enforcement and always have been. To undermine the DAs attempts to enforce the law is shameful. However, the taxi industry is important and vehicles should not be impounded for minor offences.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    Western Province is not imposing actions with a view to federalism but merely applying national laws which authorities in the other provinces show little interest in implementing.
    The ANC national government has demonstrated its duplicity with regard to dealing with national laws in its response to Zuma serving his prison sentence for contempt of court..

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Ngoashy appears to be biased to the ANC. Political commentators need to keep an open mind. I would have thought that as a commentator she would have known that the NLTA is designed to bring about an integrated public transport system for our metropolitan areas -one which integrates trains, buses and taxis. The taxis throughout the country have virtually destroyed this standard world practice for public transport. However it seems that neither Ngoashey and the ministers of transport and police are aware of this. But then how you expect an ex- nurse to know anything about transport?

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    From the very first sentence of paragraph 3: “We lost R15-million per day,” said Nceba Enge, first deputy chairperson of the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), …. I really hope that SARS will make sure that tax is collected on this amount.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The arm chair commentators and analysts need to come see the business end of this mess!

    This debacle / mess for past ten days was about same economic impact on factory production, projects, deliveries as stage 6 loadshredding. Possibly worse. At stage 8 we can sort of run two shift operations. With no labor we can’t even run on $$$ diesel.

    Some people thrive on drama. Mostly not the ones trying to keep the economy going. It is almost like with Covid. Owner managed businesses ducked and dived and kept them and their workers going to survive. People in comfy salaried jobs watched Netflix from home on paid leave while bitching about they can’t buy Chardonnay. This was same again : a large number of operations closed rather than maak ‘n plan.

  • MT Wessels says:

    “The language they use is language that discredits, disrespects; it is a language which demonises people who are in some ways fighting for the legitimate right to be able to continue their business without having their vehicles impounded,” she said.

    Wow. So much wrong with that sentence, starting with “legitimate right” – of only one side? One has to ask about what the point of laws would be is their application spirals into allegations of “disrespect.”

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Did the taxi drivers break the Law? YES! So they must be sanctioned. The taxi drivers caused the strike starting at midday! How is that justice? They do not have The Peoples rights in mind!

    Viva DA!

  • Brian Cotter says:

    I am amazed in the complete article that the safety of commuters and the lawlessness of taxi drivers not being mentioned once suggests a biased writing.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Sorry, the idea of useless Fikile Mbalula being able to solve anything is a joke,, yes he can talk, that’s about it!
    Perhaps before stating “the DA cannot create a separate country within South Africa.” The analyst shoukd compare the well governed Western Cape to the shambles in other provinces under ANC governance (whoops, that’s a definite oxymoron!) and ask the question why cirizens flock to the WC?
    The taxi industry are a violent law unto themselves, and though an important cog in the transport framework, that’s largely due to the ANC allowing them free rein and failing to properly manage any transport needs!

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    I’m reading a lot of pro-ANC bias in this story. There needs to be a deep investigation into the taxi owners connections to the ANC rather than almost blasè attitude about it. It is indeed very significant that Cele attends a Santaco meeting that no doubt works not have welcomed a City or provincial colleague, and that almost immediately thereafter they take a hard line and declare an illegal immediate strike across the province. Then the extensive quoting of an ‘expert’ that clearly shows bias?! No no no DM…not good reporting.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    R15 000 000 a day is over R5 000 000 000 a year.
    Wonder how much the fiscus lost? Oh wait…

  • The ANC failed us as the people, the DA is racially divisive and the EFF has dictatorship vibes. We deserve better as a nation, its a pitty that none of the existing paties can save us. As young people we need a new party free from the Robin island fellows and free from the apartheid sympathizers but most of all leaders that are born free, not tainted by the enger of experiencing apartheid and racial discrimination. Im sorry but it seems as if these old people want to destroy the country by fighting their demons from the past, whether its apartheid or reestablishing lost privilege. Im sorry, but, these broken, old people are holding us back, its time for new blood born in this democratic erra.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Please expand on your statement “The DA is racially divisive”.

      All I see is the anc and eff creating the racially divisive climate in the country or is it perhaps those demons of the past are alive and well in your own head?

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    I believe Analyst Asanda Ngoasheng is not analysing the situation but trying to justify the fact that the ANC still wants to be a liberation organisation while being in government, which is unconstitutional. She exposes herself when she claims that the DA has to be subservient before the ANC national leadership attitudes because SA is supposedly not a federal country. But she is wrong; it does not matter whether SA is CALLED a unitary state, fact is that the constitution gives both provincial and local governments certain areas of autonomy where the ANC national government can’t interfere with. But there is one part of governance which is irrevocably a national government responsibility and that is the maintenance of law and order, and in this the ANC, by taking the side of those who engaged in violence, has exposed themselves as not being willing to do their job. But the DA at local level has been doing theirs by removing the taxi’s that are endangering people’s lives, and were apparently blocking the road which were built to drive on, not for taxi’s to block them, from the roads. I believe that Asanda is going to see the verdict of the voters in favour of law and order, so they can be safe and secure, in next years’ election results. I can’t see that the voters will let the ANC get away with this in the Western Cape. At least Ramaphosa saved some face for the ANC when he unambigiously condemned the violence, but the damage has been done.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . To use ubuntu respect and caring as a reason to engage in violence is not an argument at all. It is the taxi industry that violated ubuntu values by what they were doing in the first place, and the government had to enforce the by-laws. Ubuntu practice, as the mayor pointed out, means that the legitimate recourse of taking it to court or other similar peaceful action should have been done. Even if the DA local government was insentive, which may have been the case, it still does not justify what the taxi industry did. Which is more, this type of typical ANC violence happens before every election (from about a year before the election). And I believe the voters are fed-up with it. That is why the ANC is losing votes so fast; it is because they are not willing to do the primary reason why government exists, and that is to maintain the law and order so the citizens can feel safe. It seems only the State President in the ANC understands this and nobody else. And the voters are not allowed by the Constitution to vote for the President; they can only vote for a party or one or two independents and they are this time not going to a political party that supports violence.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Please research the facts DM about the impoundments. This is he said/she said journalism. It is not white versus white , it is not DA versus ANC , do not forget the EFF who also had a meeting in Cape Town in Cape Town before the strike – and they are known to use violence very easily. This is about the rule of law and making commuters safe. Thanks for admitting the ANC links with the Taxi industry such as previous Durban mayor Gumede at present in the dock for corruption charges. Only the ANC and the EFF could gain anything by damages in the Western Cape. It is a fact that when two ANC ministers got involved the resolutions was withdrawn and the violence escalated fumed by the words of both ministers taking sides. The theatrics was unprofessional and clear for everybody to see. Like the ministers you are going for white Afrikaner JP Smit even stating him against B Madikizela. The law is broken and commuters lives and safety are in the hands of the lawless taxi industry with the WC being the only province where the national laws are applied to lawlessness . Stop making excuses for the Taxi industry. Denise Smit


  • Jurie Welman says:

    This is not the quality of journalism that I expect from DM. I don’t want to smell the author’s political affiliation. All I want is the naked truth.

  • Philip Machanick says:

    No one is addressing the real deeper issues.

    Apartheid spatial planning is still in place after nearly 30 years putting the poor far from economic opportunity.

    And transport-for-profit is no substitute for public transport; that the poor rely on profit-seeking taxis is a huge problem. Operators are constantly operating on the margins because profits are limited by capacity to pay and characteristics of true public transport such as operating late at night when demand is low are absent.

  • alison ellard says:

    It really interests me that the government is so naive that it thinks black people in Cape Town are not aware of the fact that the government did not stand up for them in the riots and allowed them to become the victims of such savagery. If anything this will make people vote for the DA. Do you think they would have taken on this fight if they were not concerned for the safety of the black commuters that rely heavily on the taxi’s. Can SANTACO not police it’s own and make sure they protect the lives and well being of their passengers. SANTACO used the commuters, whose money empowers them, as canon fodder, to their own end.

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