/ 6 March 2008

Harassment rife at Joburg taxi ranks

Sexual harassment of women in miniskirts at Johannesburg taxi ranks has been occurring for at least eight years, the Gauteng community safety portfolio committee heard on Thursday.

”Intelligence information indicates that this malpractice of victimisation of women in miniskirts has been going on for some eight to 10 years,” Simon Mpembe, the assistant commissioner of Johannesburg’s Central police station, told the committee.

He said, however, that only one incident had been reported to the police.

This was after Nwabisa Ngcukana (25) was stripped and assaulted at the Noord Street taxi rank on February 17.

”There are no police records of previous incidents as victims are afraid of further victimisation. Women in miniskirts are stripped naked, assaulted and left to the mercy of bystanders.”

He said the perpetrators and instigators were ”arrogant and disrespectful” taxi drivers and informal traders.

Mpembe told the committee that ”tough” corrective measures would be implemented at the ranks.

These included improved CCTV camera positioning, declaring taxi ranks a gun-free zone, launching a toll-free helpline and the possible closure of the Noord Street rank.

The committee said arrests needed to be made, not only of the taxi driver and his three accomplices who assaulted Ngcukana, but also the men at recent miniskirt marches who displayed their genitals.

”How do you allow men to strip off and show their things? That is public indecency … this is not a banana republic,” said chairperson Jackie Mofokeng, adding that police officers would be able to identify them.

The committee recommended that taxi owners be given until Sunday to hand over the drivers who had been on duty when Ngcukana was attacked. They would then face an identity parade.

”If I know it is my bread and butter, I will bring my drivers in,” said Mofokeng.

Committee member Hope Papo said that the argument that tried to justify attacks on women wearing miniskirts because the attire flew in the face of the African culture, were not valid.

”The issue is that these thugs want to say what women should wear,” he said.

Mpembe said there was a possibility of closing down the Noord Street rank as it was a ”hotspot” for criminal activity.

”It will be done when it is appropriate,” he said, adding that various ”processes” needed to be completed.

No moral or cultural basis

Also on Thursday, the department of community safety and women’s and taxi associations resolved to implement a year-long campaign for women’s safety at taxi ranks.

This follows a workshop attended by Firoz Cachalia, the provincial safety and security minister, the Gauteng Progressive Women’s Movement convener, Tshwane mayor Gwen Ramokgopa, the South African Local Government Association, civil society gender organisations, the Gauteng Taxi Council and the Gauteng National Taxi Alliance, national and provincial commuter organisations, and police and other law enforcement agencies.

All the participants condemned the action at the rank as a violation of the victim’s human rights and that it had no moral or cultural basis, nor justification.

”The workshop also expressed a concern that this was not an isolated incident but a prevalent practice at taxi ranks,” the department said.

It was agreed that the law must take its course and the perpetrators must hand themselves in or be identified with the help of the taxi industry.

”Justice has to be served to the victim and all institutions of democracy and gender equality must not fail the victim,” it said.

The key elements of the campaign would be educating the public about complaint procedures and freedom of expression, extending the current taxi industry’s code of conduct to prohibit the violation of women’s rights and gender violence, improving security and coordinating all the stakeholders. – Sapa