Taxi drivers are on a collision course with the law, Fikile Mbalula warns
Taxi drivers deliberately breached lockdown rules on Monday by resuming interprovincial travel and reverting to 100% loading capacity
The taxi industry, which has registered its unhappiness over the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund and the conditions attached to it, deliberately breached lockdown regulations on Monday by resuming interprovincial travel and reverting to 100% loading capacity.
This has the potential to add to the spiralling Covid-19 cases in the country as there is now no social distancing in the minibus taxis.
The move by the industry to disregard the lockdown regulations is also seen as setting a bad precedent by an unregulated industry, which is largely viewed as a law unto itself.
This after the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), SA’s largest taxi organisations, announced at the weekend that from Monday, they would revert to 100% loading capacity, and resume interprovincial travel, among other measures.
The taxi industry, which contributes an estimated R40bn per year to the fiscus, has dismissed the relief fund as a drop in the ocean, compared to the losses operators have incurred during the national lockdown.
The sector, which transports about 16.5-million passengers per day, is also not happy with the stringent conditions attached to the relief fund, which include that taxi operations be formally registered as a business entity and that the registered business have a banking account into which the relief allowance will be paid.
Among other things, the conditions state that these businesses be registered for income tax and other applicable taxes related to running a business. They also call for registration of employees with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), the Compensation Commission and for the skills development levy.
On June 22, about 45,000 taxi operators who are members of Santaco in Gauteng abandoned their vehicles, intimidated fellow motorists and blocked highways, leaving commuters and workers across Gauteng stranded, as a way to register their grievances against the relief fund for the sector.
“The industry cannot, all the time, when there’s a problem, call for the streets to be rendered ungovernable,” said Mbalula, during a media briefing on Monday.
“You’re setting yourselves in collision with law enforcement [agencies], which is the state. You’re daring the law, you’re challenging authority of state, there’s no need to do that.”
Mbalula said he did not want “collision” over something they could resolve. Santaco national spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa confirmed on Monday that taxi operators across the country have heeded their call to operate at 100% loading capacity).
“We have not encountered situation where law enforcement agencies have impounded taxis. We can [also] confirm that some taxis have left KwaZulu-Natal and are coming to Gauteng. They are doing interprovincial travel,” said Molelekwa.
He said taxi drivers and passengers are still required to wear masks and sanitise their hands to minimise the spread of the rapidly spreading Covid-19, which has infected 138,134 people as of Sunday, and killed 2,456 in the country.
Molelekwa said the industry was complying with the regulations by making sure drivers and passengers wore masks and were sanitised.
Mbalula said because domestic airlines have been opened for business, the “taxis on the ground, interprovincial [travel] can [also] be opened. I’ve said to them these things can be resolved ... It’s unfortunate that every time we’ve got to resolve issues we’ve got to fight”.
“We care about the taxi industry ... Covid-19 has not helped us to fast-track the model of ensuring the taxi industry is formalised. Covid-19 threw us into disarray.”
The minister said he wants to be guided by the national coronavirus command council in resolving issues affecting the taxi industry. The council will meet on Wednesday to look at issues regarding the sector. “It’s then that I will be able to pronounce on these issues. There’s no need to defy any law, or directions that we have issued. There’s no need to take to the streets and fight over these particular issues,” said Mbalula.
“Let’s exercise patience and continue to talk. But where law is deliberately broken: the state and its authority must be exerted. SA is not a banana republic. We can’t allow a state of lawlessness, where people dare government and say we are going to render the state ungovernable.”