/ 23 March 2018

Taxi industry puts gun to metro’s head

Rough ride: Taxi drivers march to the offices of the Ekurhuleni mayor and the city manager demanding they resign. The industry has dodged procurement processes and allegedly made death threats.
Rough ride: Taxi drivers march to the offices of the Ekurhuleni mayor and the city manager demanding they resign. The industry has dodged procurement processes and allegedly made death threats.

Threats, dodgy contracts and an almost R1-billion deal are at the centre of a breakdown in relations between the Ekurhuleni metro and the taxi industry, which this week culminated in a strike and dozens of taxi drivers and owners taking to the streets of Germiston.

On Tuesday, spokespersons for the Ekurhuleni taxi industry called for the removal of the municipal manager, Imogen Mashazi, and the mayor, Mzwandile Masina, for their role in the breakdown.

But what they did not mention was how the taxi industry has allegedly circumvented the metro’s procurement processes and how it has made demands about who should be hired for the city’s integrated rapid public transport network.

It is also alleged that the taxi industry has taken over the city’s transport department and is making demands about how the bus rapid transport system should be run — and that it has threatened those who seem unwilling to co-operate with it with death.

Themba Gadebe, the spokesperson for the city, confirmed that Mashazi’s safety has been threatened and the city has had to improve her security detail.

The taxi industry was brought into the project in 2012 because the taxi owners and drivers were going to be affected by the first phase of the project. It was agreed that the industry would establish a company, which became KTVR Bus Service, that would be responsible for operating the bus service.

The spokespersons for both KTVR and the taxi industry, BJ Mahlangu, said that their procurement process was above board and this was agreed to by the city.

“There is no recklessness from KTVR. If there was DBSA would not have agreed to fund the buses. However, if there is any wrongdoing by KTVR the city is at liberty to cancel the agreement,” said Mahlangu.

But, according to documents the Mail & Guardian has seen, in 2016, the taxi industry, through KTVR, unilaterally contracted Busmark to manufacture the buses that would be used in the first phase of the bus rapid transport system, between Vosloorus and Tembisa. The metro was meant to run the process.

The document dated November  11 2016, sent to the Development Bank of Southern Africa, states that the metro had been kept abreast of the procurement process. “KTVR has also ensured that the number of buses procured from Busmark are in accordance with the … roll-out plan and operations plan as provided and discussed with EMM [Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality],” the letter reads.

But a document from the Ekurhuleni transport department disputes this. It states there is no record of the process undertaken by the taxi industry to contract the bus manufacturer. The city says KTVR went outside normal procurement processes for the manufacturing of the buses. The metro has not signed off on the deviation process, which the Development Bank needs before it will grant a loan facility to the KTVR. Gadebe said the city only found out about the procurement when the bank was considering the loan and contacted them.

It is understood that 210 buses valued at more than R787-million were meant to be procured.

According to sources in the metro, tensions between KTVR members and city officials have reached the point where Mashazi has allegedly received death threats for failing to sign off on deviations, which would ensure KTVR received the loan.On Tuesday the industry claimed that it had been without techinicaladvisers, which assist the industry to understand the rapid bus transport project from planning to operations, for more than six months. But according to their correspondence to the city, this is untrue, as the contract for advisers expired in December last year.

They are demanding that the city appoint their preferred advisory company.

“We want to categorically state that we will not accept the appointment of the new technical adviser at this stage of the project,” reads the letterfrom the taxi industry.

They warn that, if the city fails to respond favourably, this will determine the future of the project and the continued participation of its members in the negotiations with the city.

“We never said the city must appoint Harvest [the advisory company]. We said they must appoint a TA [technical adviser] and we must be part of the process. The process cannot take up to a year to finalise,” Mahlangu said.

Gadebe said all transactions undertaken in the process of the City’s bus rapid transport system, must go through supply chain management processes and be thoroughly interrogated.

“We are running a clean and accountable administration and ours is to remain on course for a clean audit.”

Municipal manager fears for her safety

The manager of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, Imogen Mashazi, has gone to court to ask it to order some people to stop posting allegedly slanderous and threatening remarks about her on social media.

The papers were filed two weeks ago at the magistrate’s court in Johannesburg.

“Following the service of the application on the respondents, my office has been inundated with threatening calls. The callers are being rude and aggressive, saying that they will ‘deal with me’, they will ‘sort me out’,” the court papers read. “I currently fear for my safety.”

Mashazi believes at least two of the respondents work for the metro and they have claimed she is involved in siphoning off money from the municipality, which she denies.

Some of the messages read: “Umuntu uyalimala (A person gets hurt)”; “Umuntu simshaya manje (We beat a person now) ”; and “Makunyiwa makunyiwe (The shit is about to hit the fan)”.

Mashazi claims the onslaught started when she refused to meet demands made by the taxi industry. The spokesperson for the Ekurhuleni taxi industry, BJ Mahlangu, said he’s not aware of threats made by his members.

“There are laws in SA and if an individual is threatened they must report to the police.”
Athandiwe Saba