/ 8 March 2004

Premier responds to taxi driver march

Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa has promised to speed up the issuing of valid taxi permits after facing a crowd of protesting taxi drivers in Johannesburg on Monday.

In the meantime, those with temporary permits would not have their vehicles impounded except when they are found to be unroadworthy.

“We have already issued notices of a moratorium on the impoundment of taxis for the next six months,” Shilowa said.

The provincial transport department told the Mail & Guardian Online that more than 1 500 minibus taxis had been impounded in the past few months for operating without permits.

Hundreds of taxi drivers dispersed peacefully at about 2pm after marching to protest the impounding of their vehicles by traffic authorities.

Johannesburg Metro Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said about 5 000 protesters marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, to Shilowa’s office in Simmonds Street in the city centre, where they handed over a memorandum.

They returned to the square to hear Shilowa’s address.

No serious incidents were reported during the march, Minnaar said.

National Taxi Alliance (NTA) general secretary Alpheus Mlalazi said the march and two-day taxi strike were to protest against alleged harassment for not having permits.

“We are protesting the impounding of taxis. They [traffic authorities] have not given permits because of a failure on their part,” he said shortly before the march started at about 10am.

Mlalazi said there is a national moratorium on the issuing of new permits. In consequence, new operators have to buy permits from existing holders. But doing so often takes one to three years because of tardiness in the transport department.

Many operators feel they have no alternative but to do business without permits.

Mlalazi said he rejected attempts by the national and provincial transport departments to portray the strike as a protest against the confiscation of unroadworthy vehicles.

Earlier in the morning, national Department of Transport spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said that while the department respects the right of drivers and owners to protest, commuter safety and the removal of unroadworthy taxis and unfit drivers from the road are not negotiable.

The department is, however, willing to meet provincial transport departments to discuss other issues and reach amicable solutions.

“We call on drivers, commuters and the public to refuse to board unroadworthy and overloaded taxis and to report them to our toll-free 0861 400 800 number,” Mabaya said.

In his address to the marchers, Shilowa said he took note of the issues raised in their memorandum, and will meet taxi industry leaders “within the next two weeks.”

Shilowa said the Gauteng government is “prepared to work together with all taxi associations operating in the province to solve the problems facing the industry.

“We recognize the important role that the taxi industry plays in providing transport, especially to black people and the contribution it makes to the economy. We are committed to work for the growth of this transport sector,” he said.

“We will speed up the process of issuing of valid taxi permits to replace the current temporary permits,” he added.

He appealed to taxi operators to maintain their vehicles in good condition at all times, and called for those alleging misuse of power by traffic officers to provide facts “that can help in investigations”.

“Keeping your vehicle in good and roadworthy condition must not be done only to comply with the law, but also to ensure the safety of commuters,” Shilowa said.

He promised appropriate action against officers misusing their power.

“We will investigate these allegations and if found to be true we will take appropriate action against any official responsible,” he said.

Boyboy Mogorosi, an NTA representative, said his organisation has given the government 72 hours to respond to their grievances, failing which they would embark on a national strike.

Mogorosi said all drivers would be at work tomorrow as normal.

Sizwe Matshikiza, a provincial transport department spokesperson, told the M&G Online his department would only respond after it has spoken to the premier.

“We are not going to pre-empt what the premier is going to say in respond to the NTA memorandum. We will wait for him to give us direction first before we could respond,” said Matshikiza.

Metrorail, the commuter rail service, reported fuller trains on Monday morning.

Lauriette Modipane, Metrorail’s acting chief executive, said all trains were running on schedule, but regretted being unable to provide extra trains “due to existing problems with our rolling stock”. — Sapa

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