Providing an essential service to millions of South Africans, taxis have been the preferred mode of public transport within the country for many years. However, as most South Africans would agree, the industry is long overdue for an upgrade for a plethora of reasons.
In lieu of this, the time has finally come to begin seeing developments being made within the industry.
Looking at transforming the taxi industry, the 2020 National Taxi Lekgotla was officially opened on Thursday, 29 October 2020. This is an initiative which is driving to change the very essence of public transport.
During the opening of the Lekgotla, President Cyril Ramaphosa explained the taxi industry is the very lifeblood of the country’s public transport system. Looking at this, he stated, “Over the next three days we will be charting the course for a reimagined, better-regulated and empowered industry.”
Improving the current standards is instrumental, as Ramaphosa explains the industry is a significant source of business creation with approximately 150,000 taxi business owners in operation.
He enthuses, “It is a major employer of around 300,000 drivers and 100,000 rank marshals. The taxi industry is, therefore, one of the most important sectors in our economy.”
Playing such an essential role in the lives of many, Ramaphosa emphasises, there must be transformation and empowerment, coupled with real benefits to the businesses involved. Currently, he claims there are high barriers to cross, such as the cost of vehicle financing and maintenance, which is threatening business viability. He also adds, “Badly maintained and old vehicles threaten the safety of passengers and other road users.”
Sharing a common aspiration to see the minibus taxi industry overcome its challenges, adapt in response to the demands of modern public transportation, and ultimately to grow and thrive—has become paramount to host the lekgotla.
From the lekgotla, the president says participants need to come up with concrete measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this vital industry. Ramaphosa also believes it is crucial to address the challenges which have tarnished the industry. These include the issue of labour relations and allegations of the exploitation of workers; the high number of road accidents involving taxis; the industry’s response to the rise of e-hailing services; and compliance with tax laws.
Ramaphosa stresses, “We also need to address the conflict relating to competition over routes and the associated acts of violence and criminality.”
Moreover, the president claims that the government remains committed to driving interventions that strengthen the industry, which is why among the issues that will be discussed, is that of subsidization.
“We have invested substantially in the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme and will continue to leverage its potential. We will be giving renewed attention to supporting business growth in the sector, especially to empower previously disadvantaged individuals such as women.” He said.
Through formalisation, Ramaphosa feels there will be more regulation in the industry. This, in turn, will assist with eradicating illegal operations that affect both the industry and government and are a catalyst for conflict.
Also, given its financial size, formalising the taxi industry is a vital step towards ensuring its contribution to the national tax revenue base.
Bheki Ntuli, KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, added that for the country to reach the envisaged level of the taxi industry, stakeholders must address the four fundamental areas of discussion, namely:
- Industry unity and leadership
- Industry regulations
- Industry empowerment
- Industry professionalization and customer care
Furthermore, Ntuli agrees with the president in that there are critical challenges faced by the industry which need to be addressed—especially the level of instability in some of the taxi associations in KwaZulu Natal, the levels of killings and the use of hitmen (izinkabi).
Ntuli points out, “In this province, we have had many engagements with PSIRA discussing the role of private security, who are at the forefront of violence in the taxi industry.” Also, Ntuli stresses another issue which needs to be addressed is that of certain taxi owners whose drivers do not queue at taxi ranks, but always get prioritised and make more money. This is despite the impact it has on other taxi owners, who then suffer a financial loss.
This then results in conflicts emanating from the ranks, route disputes, power struggles, greed and corruption. Ntuli says it is a harsh reality, one which doesn’t only affect taxi operators, but the commuters as well.
He highlights, “Areas such as KwaSwayimane, Mandeni, Richards Bay, Newcastle, Howick, Pietermaritzburg, KwaNongoma, Mzinyathi, Pietermaritzburg and Ladysmith – are among those remaining with serious challenges.”
Such is the nature of these conflicts, Ntuli explains that the latest report presented by the KZN SAPS indicates there are 73 murder cases this year alone and 14 suspects have been arrested and charged. Also, there are 16 recorded attempted murder cases this year, with 9 suspects in custody.
Discussing the issues, Ntuli states, the Provincial Executive Council (Cabinet) previously also approved several strategies which the Department implemented to deal with instability. Since these strategies have been implemented, he emphasises there are indications of success.
These strategies and successes include:
- The Rank Management System, which was implemented in Newcastle. An integral part of the strategy is to ensure that Private Security companies are employed and paid for by the government to protect public transport facilities within municipalities. The same process was tried in the Hibiscus Coast Municipality.
- Implementation of extra-ordinary measures in terms of section 91 of the National Land Transport Act. This is done in areas where violence continues to persist, despite interventions by the government.
Ntuli explains this is used as a last resort and would ordinarily be followed by the closure of ranks and/or suspension of routes. Whilst it is not a preferred course of action, the Department was forced to employ this in KwaMaphumulo, Newcastle and KwaNdengezi in 2015. This was also implemented in Ladysmith.
Stressing that KZN plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of the taxi industry, Ntuli concludes in saying, “We hope that through this engagement that we will find common ground and be able to make sound recommendations to the National Taxi Lekgotla.”
As the government hopes to lay down a foundation promoting professionalism within the taxi industry, one free of violence, do you think this is a feasible operation? Or do you feel more stringent steps need to be taken to regulate the taxi industry?
Authors: Quinton Boucher & Calvin Swemmer
Edited: Calvin Swemmer