Maverick Citizen

SHUTDOWN

Non-payment of scholar transport fees triggers huge taxi strike in Eastern Cape

Non-payment of scholar transport fees triggers huge taxi strike in Eastern Cape
Roads were blocked across the central part of the Eastern Cape on Thursday morning as taxi operators protested against the non-payment of scholar transport fees. (Photo: Supplied)

Parts of the N2 remained blockaded on Thursday morning as several scholar transport operators went on strike in the Eastern Cape after the provincial transport department failed to pay their fees on time.

The central part of the Eastern Cape was brought to a standstill on Thursday morning, with one of the province’s metros, Buffalo City, bearing the brunt of a strike as taxi operators blocked roads after the provincial government failed to pay their scholar transport fees on time.

However, the Eastern Cape transport department said some scholar transport service providers had not signed their contracts yet because of problems with the South African Revenue Service. 

Taxi operators, who asked to remain anonymous, said they faced repossession of their vehicles owing to unpaid scholar transport fees.

On Wednesday night, the transport department called on scholar transport operators to revisit their plans for a total shutdown in the province, emphasising that it was illegal.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Through thick bush, up hills and across rivers – Eastern Cape learners’ long trek to school

“The department has also cautioned that such a shutdown will not only infringe on people’s right of movement, but will also negatively impact scores of taxi operators, the overwhelming majority of whom depend on the taxi rank, have private contracts with parents to ferry learners, or have contracts with companies to ferry their workers,” a department statement reads.

“The Eastern Cape Department of Transport wishes to assure the scholar transport operators and the public at large that the challenge is not with unavailability of funds, but rather some technical challenges that it continues to tackle. The department says it is also worth noting that while it takes a degree of responsibility for the delay, some of it is down to the boycott of the signing of contracts by some operators when the department asked them to do so back in January and in February, while part of it is down to challenges relating to SARS among some operators.”

Department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said they promised to settle outstanding fees by 15 May. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pupils describe the long walk to school, amid fight for scholar transport in rural Eastern Cape

“The department promised to pay R5.9-million in outstanding fees on Friday and also to pay further outstanding invoices on 15 May,” the statement said. 

“The Eastern Cape Provincial Government and the provincial Department of Transport have stressed that any planned acts of a shutdown, denying people their right of movement at a time when many elderly and frail citizens are supposed to be getting their social grants, will not only be an immoral act but will also be an illegal action that will be acted against by the law enforcement.”

Binqose said the department did not wish to downplay the plight and concerns of those who planned the protest and would take a degree of responsibility for the non-payment of scholar transport operators. 

However, the department “is pleading with those who advocate for a shutdown to revisit their decision and to remember that their actions will have far-reaching consequences not only affecting the work of many companies but also the government, the elderly and the frail”.

Many elderly people were out on Thursday to collect their pension. Alexa Lane from the Black Sash in the Eastern Cape said that by mid-morning they had not received any reports of significant disruptions.

Bishop Yolelo, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) chairperson in the Eastern Cape, distanced his organisation from the shutdown on Thursday morning. 

scholar transport

Public order police started removing vehicles and opening roads by mid-morning on Thursday. (Photo: Supplied)

“While we acknowledge the existing challenges surrounding overall government regulation and support of our industry, we believe there should be more cordial avenues pursued to ensure that harm isn’t caused as concerns are being registered,” Yolelo said.

He added that they supported taxi owners’ concerns about not being paid for scholar transport. 

“We confirm our concerns over the non-payment of Scholar Transport Service Providers and that the matter is being attended to. We are committed to ensuring the safety of all commuters wishing to utilise our services with the help of law enforcement,” he added.

Buffalo City Metro spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said they were monitoring developments in the “province-wide taxi shutdown”. 

“The Metro is part of the safety and security cluster led by the South African Police Service, which ensures that the safety of citizens and the state is paramount. 

“A multistakeholder joint operations centre has been activated by SAPS in the Metro. Our law enforcement agencies are part of the operations, responding swiftly and rooting out criminal elements. 

“Metro management reconvened this morning to assess the impact of the taxi strike and has decided that all staff must be released and work remotely or from home for their safety. 

“Our essential services will continue to provide basic services, and to this effect our Protection Services has been informed to provide the necessary safety to our staff.

“The Metro is ensuring the safekeeping of all municipal assets to ensure that all vehicles are parked safely and securely and all other assets are safely locked away. No damages to municipal properties or vehicles have been reported thus far.”

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro and the western part of the province were not affected by roadblocks by mid-morning. 

However, several parts of the N2 in the central part of the province were blocked early morning, and at about 10am the public order police moved in to remove vehicles.

Affected roads also include the R72 near Port Alfred, several roads in East London, the N2 at Peddie, the N2 through Dutywa towards Mthatha and the N2 at Tsomo. 

Eyewitnesses who asked to remain anonymous said taxi protesters stopped vehicles carrying workers or children at their “checkpoints”.

Several schools in East London remained closed on Thursday in anticipation of the protest.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson MK Ndamase said they had not received any reports of ambulances being affected by the strike. 

Premier ‘lied’

The DA’s Marshall von Buchenroder, who has been the most vocal advocate for improving scholar transport services in the province, said he believed the shutdown could have been avoided if premier Oscar Mabuyane had kept his promises.

“Earlier this year, the premier promised that an additional R90-million would be made available to cover outstanding payments to operators that had not been paid since November last year. This followed after the premier was forced to publicly admit that the scholar transport programme had left in excess of 40,000 learners on the side of the road with no way of getting to school. 

“In his State of the Province Address he promised that his government was aware of the problems within the programme and was working to address them. 

“It is clear from today’s actions by operators that the premier lied and that the rot within the Scholar Transport Programme is nowhere near to being resolved. His failure to keep his word has resulted in a provincial-wide shutdown of routes, schools being shut down, and hundreds of thousands of learners [affected],” Von Buchenroder said.

The strike began on the day the Legal Resources Centre and the South African Human Rights Commission were due in court to fight for an order to increase scholar transport to some schools and for the Education Department to provide a catch-up plan for pupils affected by the problems in the system.

The lead attorney for the centre’s legal team, Cameron McConnachie, said they would soon get a court order by agreement for the schools who brought the application, and the rest of the matter would be decided at a later stage. The matter would be heard again in September. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    Who would want to do business with any tier of Government when you don’t know if you will get paid or not ? I have done business with Municipalities and never got paid without a huge fight. On one occasion the Mayors car was about to be impounded to pay the debt, and I soon got paid. I do business in 30 African countries and South Africa is NOT one of them.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Strike season lasts 12 months most years

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    Does anyone know whether or not parents are required to pay anything? Subsidization is one thing, but there needs to be investment on the part of parents. I am obviously against children being disadvantaged or undernourished, but I just find it too hard to grasp that people have children when there is certainty that they will have to pass on costs to others, i.e. to transport, feed and educate them. Having a child does not make you a parent any more than having a piano makes you a pianist.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      I can’t believe you just wrote that. These children have a right to education which cannot be realized if they cannot get to school. Like you, like me – they didn’t asked to be born. Don’t you want to live in a society which cares for its people and gives everyone access to learning? Parental responsibility has nothing to do with this particular problem

      • Jeff Robinson says:

        I doubt very much that I am in any way less sympathetic than you to the plight of children whose parents are unable to provide for them adequately. Indeed, they did not ask to be born and we must do what we can. But the sad reality remains that such parents tend to be the most prolific. Education is what matters and the most important educators of all are parents. And the most crucial period educationally are the years before formal schooling. Thus, parenting is the most important of all vocations and should only be embarked on by responsible, caring and capable adults. This does not require great wealth. I have always lived on limited income and accordingly my wife and I decided to have two children only. With a world population in excess of 8 billion, having more than that is just irresponsible. Indeed, Jacob Zuma’s having sired 14 children is arguably a crime against the planet.

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