Transport minister Fikile Mbalula addresses members of the police at the Noord taxi rank in the Johannesburg CBD on April 1 2020. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula addresses members of the police at the Noord taxi rank in the Johannesburg CBD on April 1 2020. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has hit back at criticism that his department is flip-flopping on regulations meant to help curb the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is rather unfortunate that others see this responsiveness as lowering the bar in the measures we have introduced,” he said, during a media briefing on Friday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa lashed out at cabinet ministers for relaxing Covid-19 regulations. He said mixed messages on the regulations have caused panic and anxiety in SA and called for the regulations to not be “bent and modelled according to the needs of industries”.

On Wednesday, Mbalula relaxed Covid-19 regulations in the public-transport sector during the coronavirus lockdown, allowing minibus taxis to carry full passenger loads if passengers wear masks.

He also announced changes to operating times, with minibus taxis now permitted to operate from 5am until 10am (previously 9am), and from 4pm to 9pm (previously 8pm). However, he backtracked on Thursday morning, saying transport vehicles must reduce the number of maximum passengers to 70% of the licensed capacity.

On Friday, Mbalula said the adjustments in the regulations for the minibus taxi industry are necessary as they were informed by “conditions on the ground”.

“One of the key unintended consequences of the 9am cut-off time was that a significant number of people get left behind in shopping malls because some of the stores .. and banks only open at 9am,” he said. “This results in large numbers of people wandering around waiting for the next window for public transport in the afternoon.”

This week, the transport minister permitted buses and minibus taxis to operate throughout the day as a means to accommodate social grants recipients but “this concession expires at 8pm [on Friday]”.

On aviation, Mbalula said on Wednesday the department sent back a charter aircraft from Harare, Zimbabwe, which entered SA airspace and landed at OR Tambo International Airport without proper authorisation. The matter is being investigated.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, road traffic officials conducted 146 roadblocks across SA, in which 17,395 vehicles were stopped. Mbalula said 86 cars were prevented from entering or exiting Mpumalanga without the requisite permits, while there were 231 cars turned back in Gauteng, and 24 in the Eastern Cape.

Among other things, 32 ride-hailing providers were caught “carrying more passengers than permitted”; one driver was caught trying to operate outside permitted hours; 10 drivers failed to wear masks; two operators attempted long distance or inter-provincial travel; while another two attempted to provide cross-border passenger transport.

Said Mbalula, “Our communities must be vigilant and continue to obey the lockdown rules as this is the only way to preserve life and stop the spread of this virus dead in its tracks.” 

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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