Rift opens between taximen and Radebe

There appears to be a rift between taxi owners and drivers and the government over plans to roll-out the bus rapid transport (BRT) system.

Thousands of taximen shut down Johannesburg’s CBD on Tuesday and threatened to “cripple the economy” and “bring even the trains to a standstill” if their memorandum of demands was not met within seven days.

The memorandum was handed to African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe by Ralph Jones, national spokesperson for the United Taxi Association Forum (UTAF), at the Library Gardens. The memorandum listed the industry’s grievances regarding the BRT system, which include job losses and lack of participation in the planning process.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe told Talk Radio 702 on Wednesday that the government had “guaranteed” there would be no job losses or decreased profits.

Radebe said the BRT was proceeding unabated and that a prototype had already been constructed at Joubert Park.

‘Cripple the economy’

Asked by 702 anchor John Robbie why the taxi organisations were on strike, he replied that they were the best people to answer that question.

To a question of how he could guarantee there would not be any job losses, Radebe said his department had ‘done our number crunching” and that during the first year of operation there would be a guaranteed income of R1,5-billion. He said the company operating the BRT would also include taxi operators.

Radebe also criticised the striking drivers for intimidating commuters and removing them from busses and trains.

Eight people were arrested during the protests. Police said four people were arrested for reckless and negligent driving and four for obstructing traffic during the protests.



Embittered taxi drivers run through the Johannesburg CBD on March 24 in protest at the new bus rapid transport system. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

The city centre was devoid of shoppers, and most shops closed for business, as the protesters—many carrying knobkerries and banners—marched from Newtown’s Mary Fitzgerald Square to the Library Gardens. Some of the banners read “One bus driver, one bullet”, “The taxis helped you to exile” and “Away with Jeffism” (a reference to Radebe).



Taxi drivers gather at the Library Gardens on March 24 in protest at the new bus rapid transport system. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

The United Taxi Association Forum’s public relations officer, Joe Mophuting, said they had met Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo and mayoral committee member Rihanna Moosajee on February 17. Mophuting says they were promised feedback within 14 days, but received only the minutes of the meeting nearly a month later.



A taxi driver lets off some steam at a protest rally on March 24. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

Putco bus driver Benuel Tshukudi was shot in the hand in Merafe, Soweto on Tuesday and motorists reported being intimidated and threatened at blockades.

Radebe said he had spoken to Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mtetwa, who said he would track down those responsible.

Protesters also showed reporters injuries from police rubber bullets and damage to their taxis, but police said they had to fire the rubber bullets to clear the blockades.

The ANC said the BRT would contribute to a more efficient transport system in the country and would not lead to job losses.

But the Congress of the People, which broke away from the ruling party last year, called for Radebe’s resignation, saying he had failed to address transport problems in the country.