Govt gears up for violence

Government is planning a massive show of political and security muscle at Sunday’s launch of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. But the taxi industry has warned that “serious violence” is almost inevitable if the weekend’s launch goes ahead.

President Jacob Zuma is scheduled to test one of the new BRT buses on Sunday and the launch is intended to display the government’s political will and support for the BRT system.

A source close to the BRT planning process told the Mail & Guardian that discussions had been held with security agencies about the possibility that the army could be called in to help the police control strike action on Tuesday by taxi organisations angered by the implementation of the BRT.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane signalled government’s hardening of attitude this week when she said the province would not be “held to ransom” by the taxi industry.

The ANC and the SACP also weighed in, demanding that “law enforcement agencies protect ordinary citizens on the day of the strike ... that the laws of our land be enforced and the lawlessness akin to some elements among taxi operators stop”.

“Security agencies should be all out to prevent the violence associated with marches and strikes especially by the taxi industry,” the ANC and SACP said.
“The lives of law-abiding citizens and the public infrastructure of the BRT should be protected against any perpetrator of violence.”

The Gauteng government has promised to clamp down on any strike-related violence on Tuesday, saying the army will reinforce the police if necessary. Sizwe Matshikiza, spokesperson for Gauteng community safety minister Khabisi Mosonkuntu, said his department was “ready to contend with any likelihood” of violence on Tuesday and that a “leading [police] commissioner” had said he would not hesitate calling on the defence force should the need arise.

Mosonkuntu has held meetings with police commanders to discuss “doubling” police numbers on the day of the strike, Matshikiza said, and has advised South Africans to use “alternative transport” on the day.

“We shall not tolerate people who deny other road users the use of the roads,” said Matshikiza. The country’s intelligence agencies had been consulted and “weaponry” to deal with situations such as protesting taxi drivers “driving at 5km an hour” had been secured, he said.

On Thursday the likelihood of violence if the BRT launch goes ahead was raised in court papers on behalf of 27 taxi associations led by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) seeking to halt the implementation of the BRT.

“The taxi industry is known for unfortunate incidents of violence in the past due to the competition in respect of taxis and routes between the different taxi associations,” according to an affidavit by United Taxi Association Forum spokesperson Ralph Jones, who filed the urgent application at the North Gauteng High Court on behalf of the taxi associations. “I fear that should the BRT system be implemented — the desperation of taxi people involved may well lead to serious incidences of violence.”

What has become apparent, said Jones, is the BRT system will be cheaper than the current taxi service, which will destroy the current routes arrangements.

“The consequences of this will be that 575 taxis will compete with other taxis in other areas elsewhere in the province and in the country which will only lead to violence,” Jones said.

He said the national transport department, which Zuma had directed to facilitate talks with taxi organisations, and the City of Johannesburg acted in “bad faith” as they were aware that the BRT would go ahead at any cost.

Meanwhile, Santaco has rejected a statement from the national transport ministry on Thursday that the strike has been called off. The statement said the ministry and Santaco “agreed that there will be no strike and that the launch of BRT operations in Johannesburg will go ahead with the participation of all stakeholders, including Santaco and local taxi operators”.

On Thursday afternoon Jones told the M&G there was no such agreement, as did Santaco general secretary Philip Taaibosch.

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