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‘Government opportunism’ — taxi drivers question timing of Covid-19 relief fund extension

‘Government opportunism’ — taxi drivers question timing of Covid-19 relief fund extension
Minibus taxis are sprayed with disinfectant on 6 April 2020 in Pretoria as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga has extended the Taxi Relief Fund and increased the amount to be paid — with critics questioning the timing ahead of the 2024 elections.

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga has extended the R1.135-billion Taxi Relief Fund (TRF) until 30 November and encouraged licensed taxi operators to apply for the one-off payment introduced to help the industry deal with the impacts of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

During the pandemic, the government imposed restrictions on public transport and after an outcry from the taxi sector, the then minister Fikile Mbalula promised to provide financial assistance. The financial assistance was announced in June 2020 but only released in 2022. 

On Thursday, 14 March, Chikunga said that when the TRF application period closed in March last year, 85,364 licence holders out of 141,987 had been paid. They received a total of R426-million, with more than R700-million still in the fund, which would have been retained by the Treasury had the fund not been extended.

“The department approached Cabinet to request an extension of the TRF to afford as many taxi operators as possible an opportunity to benefit from the fund. Cabinet approved the extension of the TRF in August 2023 for a further period of 12 months,” Chikunga said.

Claimants were initially entitled to a once-off payment of R5,000, but Chikunga said the department had overestimated the number of licence holders and each applicant was now entitled to R7,500. Those who received the original payment can reapply for a R2,500 top-up.

“The taxi industry forms a crucial component of integrated public transport, and it is for this reason that we will always be sensitive to challenges facing the industry as any challenges affecting one component will have implications for the entire system,” the minister said. 

‘Opportunistic’ timing

“The government has done a great job by distributing the balance of the money. However, I cannot help but question the timing. Is this a means to encourage us to vote for the ruling party?” asked 32-year-old Johannesburg taxi driver Lucky Monama.

“If that’s the case, it’s a petty and desperate move whose intentions are completely misplaced. We have waited for the money for almost two years, one wonders why now.”

Another Johannesburg taxi driver, Nsizwa Jele (32), said, “We thank the government for the money, but we waited too long and we are wondering why the payments were held off only to be revisited during an election year. It smacks of opportunism.”

National Taxi Alliance (NTA) spokesperson Theo Malele said operators who had licences and were operating by 26 March 2020 qualified for the payment.

SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) spokesperson Rebecca Phala told SAfm the extension would “greatly” assist its members as many weren’t able to access funds in the first round because of difficulty obtaining the required documentation.

“This is a second chance for them now that most of them have the proper documentation to apply.”

Asked about the timing of the extension of the funds ahead of the 29 May elections, Phala said Santaco did not want to “be distracted by such observations” and was focused on ensuring members could sustain themselves.

Mhlengi Dlamini (44) a taxi driver operating between the Johannesburg CBD and Soweto, said, “I don’t want to sound like I do not appreciate the government’s assistance, but when you look at the price of a single taxi, that’s when you realise how little the money is.”

Violence

Incidents of violence related to the taxi industry flared up in Ekurhuleni and Cape Town recently.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two killed as taxi violence resurges in Ekurhuleni, with strike action hobbling commuter services

In Ekurhuleni, two members of a local taxi association were killed on 7 March when the taxi sector went on strike over a dispute with a bus company that had been awarded a contract to operate in the area.

A taxi driver from Tembisa in Ekurhuleni told Daily Maverick, “Encroaching is the cause of the tensions. We have routes which we have established but we now see buses [on] those routes.

“You build a house and someone else moves in, that will not happen. The buses should respect our work because if they do not do that, there will be bloodshed.”

The NTA said the bus company had signed contracts with the City of Ekurhuleni and was using routes which the taxi sector started and nurtured.

Regarding the violent strike in Ekurhuleni last week, the NTA’s Malele said, “Talks with the Gauteng [transport] MEC are ongoing and we hope that these talks will bring about peace in the area of Ekurhuleni. At present, I cannot elaborate on those talks, but they are ongoing.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Micheal Steyn says:

    I strongly suspect that all the Anc government has ever done was buy votes and not really addressing any of the problems in housing, employment, education and health that our nation is still suffering from. We don’t have the funds to squander on this three years after the covid crisis has abated. Those same funds could have been channeled towards the srd grant where desperate people are struggling to afford food with an insulting R350 per month.

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