/ 24 June 2020

The taxi industry deserves a full load of respect

Taxi2 2 Easy Resize.com
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused pain for minibus taxi passengers and drivers. (Paul Botes/M&G)

The taxi industry in South Africa is one of the most important industries in the country, yet it is underfunded and often ignored by the government. It attracts all sorts of negative stereotypes but what is rarely mentioned is how it is the backbone of most poor, black families. Not only because it transports them to their workplaces at an affordable price, but because it also allows for the existence of other businesses. 

It is not difficult to understand why this industry is treated in this way; it is administered by black people. In a country such as ours, with a colonial legacy that still sees everything black as subordinate and everything white as superior, there is a misconception that race determines the quality of the service. Black is often associated with “violent, inefficient and dirty”. White,on the other hand, is “clean, classy and reliable”. It is not surprising then that the minister of finance refers to taxi owners protesting for a reasonable relief fund as “bullies”. When blacks in this country protest, it is senseless and  not within the logic of justice. 

The taxi industry is one of the few businesses that is black, from its employees to its owners, although of course it is not immune to the overreaching white hand, because the taxis are still manufactured and financed by white-owned institutions. 

Nevertheless, the taxi industry disproves the myth that blacks are incapable of governing themselves and running a sector efficiently. For years it has managed to operate without collapsing. It has managed to transport Sis’ Zandi to work everyday so that she can feed her family, it sustains the queue marshals, mechanics and all the sisters and brothers who sell their wares at the rank. To say the industry does not contribute anything in tax is another fallacy — what about fuel levies and other associated taxes? Do they not count?

To realise how important this industry is, we only have to remember how the rhythm of our daily lives is affected when they decide to stop operating.

Here I want to also suggest that there is something quite suspicious about calling the taxi associations “greedy” for demanding an increase from the relief fund. Because of the Covid-19 regulations, taxis are only allowed to transport a certain number of people; this means that per load they are not making the same amount they used to make before the pandemic. Yet, the petrol they use and the maintenance of the taxis, as well as the payment of drivers does not change.  Also important to note is that many of these taxis are financed and the financial institutions still require the payment of instalments. 

The expenses remain the same yet the income decreases drastically. Where will this money come from? 

If the government takes seriously the contribution that the taxi industry makes to the economy, why then does it refuse to negotiate and rather resorts to calling taxi bosses names? If the government does not have the money that the taxi associations require, how is it that throughout the years it has always been able to bail out other industries, such as aviation and broadcasting? 

Of course, questions about violence, particularly gender-based violence, and the regulating and equipping of the sector must also be addressed. 

But, the government should find a way to address the concerns of an industry that has been on the sidelines for a very long time without antagonising them. 

To deny this industry relief when it needs it the most is to deny its importance and legitimacy as one of the anchors of the South African economy.