Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

Gauteng commuters were left stranded on Wednesday when the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), SA’s second-largest taxi organisation, blocked major highways and “hijacked” a metro bus to protest against the government’s non-implementation of a R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund for the R50bn sector.

The unregulated industry was among sectors heavily affected by the coronavirus as operators were initially allowed to operate only at set times and at 70% loading capacity for local operations, while interprovincial and cross-border operations were prohibited during the most stringent levels of lockdown.

Wednesday’s protest by the taxi industry, which transports 16.5-million passengers a day, comes as grade 12 learners write their matric exams.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said all learners affected by the protest will be given a maximum of an hour to arrive late. He said they could also write their exams at any school closer to them.

The protest led to a number of taxi ranks and major routes being abandoned, including Germiston and the sprawling Alexandra taxi rank, which serves Gauteng’s financial hub of Sandton, among other areas.

There was a big traffic backlog between Soweto and Midrand on the N1 north freeway as scores of taxi operators slowly made their way to capital city Tshwane, where they will march to transport minister Fikile Mbalula’s office and to the Union Buildings to deliver their list of grievances.

Johannesburg metro police department (JMPD) spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said the taxi operators were driving at 40km/h. “Officers are monitoring the situation closely, we are calling on motorists to be patient,” he said, adding he could not confirm any act of violence.

Besides the N1 freeway, other major traffic obstructions were reported on the R80, N4, Mabopane and Atterbury road at Menlyn, Tshwane.

The Tshwane Bus Service tweeted that one of its buses “has been hijacked by taxi drivers”, noting that on other routes “passengers [were] kicked and forced out of the buses”, adding: “With this we have to recall all our buses to the depot.”

NTA spokesperson Theo Malele could not be reached immediately for comment. The NTA protest comes almost a month after the government held its national taxi summit, which the NTA refused to attend, to discuss formalisation of the industry, which spends R20bn on fuel a year.

President Cyril Ramaphosa called for the industry to be regulated, saying that was an important step in ensuring it contributed to the country’s tax revenue. Mbalula told conference delegates that a subsidy for the industry will be introduced by April 2021.

In June, about 45,000 taxi operators abandoned their vehicles, intimidated fellow motorists and blocked highways to protest against the stringent conditions attached to the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund.

The conditions included that the taxi operations must be formally registered as a business entity and that the registered business must have a bank account into which the relief allowance will be paid.

The conditions also stated that these businesses must be registered for income tax and other applicable taxes related to running a business; and that the registration process includes registration of employees with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), the Compensation Commission and for the skills development levy.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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