/ 20 April 2009

Zuma slates government at taxi summit

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma made the most of his last few days out of government, criticising the Department of Transport’s work and their handling of the taxi industry’s grievances with the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT).

At the South African National Taxi Council’s (Santaco) summit on the planned BRT System, held at Gallagher Estate on Monday, Zuma diverged dramatically from his planned speech, talking informally to a mostly appreciative crowd of about 1 800 taxi operators.

He said that he had once been in talks with the industry, but that was before he lost his job, he added with a laugh.

“Something that is a problem is the slowness in government — the way in which they handle things,” he said.

Zuma assured the crowd that “we are going to establish a performance-monitoring process to make sure government acts on time.”

Before doing a dance rendition of Umshini wami, accompanied by most in the audience, and the on-stage pianist, Zuma said that when it comes to BRT, he supports Santaco’s position to “hold horses for now”.

He also claimed not to know why the Department of Transport would limit taxi operators’ permits from an indefinite time period to seven years, as is stipulated in the National Land Transport Bill, which was recently passed by Parliament.

“Let the government explain that to us sufficiently so we can understand it,” he said.

He added that government is not communicating properly with the industry.

“The ANC government acknowledges the importance and critical role of the only industry created, owned and operated by black people,” and the misperception that the taxi industry forms part of the second economy.

“You transported cadres in and out of the country and now is the time to benefit,” he said to cheers and applause.

Although Zuma proposed that the BRT system should be halted for now, he also promoted its potential benefits. We need to grab these opportunities,” he said, referring to the taxi industry. “Why do you want to own taxis only — not buses, not trains, not boats?”

Other speakers included Transport Minister Jeff Radebe, president of Santaco, AJ Mthembu, and secretary general of Santaco, Philip Taaibosch.

‘No change is not an option’
Radebe presented the Department of Transport’s response to Santaco’s proposition on the implementation of the BRT. He made it very clear that “no change is not an option”.

Radebe assured the taxi operators that there would be no loss of legitimate jobs or profits among those moving into a BRT system.

“All cities currently implementing BRT will do so via a negotiated contract with incumbent minibus and bus operators on the affected routes,” he said.

He was quick to add that by 2020 a maximum of 15 000 to 18 000 taxis would be affected by the BRT system in eight cities. “This is under 15% of the current national taxi fleet,” he said.

Radebe apologised for not being present at the summit called late last year, explaining that he was in Burundi at the time with President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Not everybody felt that the summit was productive. “If anything, this is more of a campaign than [something] to help us,” said Basil Stebe, a taxi driver.

“What Zuma wants is for people to vote him into power … I don’t believe Radebe,” he added. “He promised to tar the rural roads, but nothing has happened.”

Another taxi driver, who asked not to be named, said: “Not all of us are members of the ANC. Why did they call on that one man — Zuma?”

However, much of the crowd appeared largely impressed by Zuma’s appearance and speech.

Taxi owner Mischack Magagula said: “Zuma says this thing must wait until he’s in government and I’m very happy about that.”

Welcome Mthiyane, also a taxi owner, agreed. “We are very happy because black people were going to lose, but now Zuma has assured us that we are a part of the economy,” he said.