Taxi drivers’ strike turns ugly

Johannesburg - Terror and chaos stalked the streets of Joburg on Monday morning as a strike by taxi drivers turned ugly.

A taxi association calling itself the United Taxi Association Front (Utaf) not only brought the city to a standstill by blockading the M1 and M2 freeways, but terrorised motorists by pulling passengers out of passing vehicles.

Disgruntled taxi operators brandished sticks on the M1 North as taxis blocked traffic. Picture: Matthews Baloyi. Credit: THE STAR

The highway blockade resulted in the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) closing the on-ramps.

The SA National Taxi Council said it was not involved in the strike.

Commuters who gathered at the Bree Street taxi rank in the city centre tried to get into the vehicles of people who stopped to help them, only to be forced out by strikers.

Earlier, commuters had packed these private vehicles to capacity paying more than usual for the trip.

But when a man began banging on bonnets, ordering commuters to get out, the motorists left the rank.

A 15-year-old who walked from Hillbrow to Bree Street and found no taxis continued walking to Joburg Secondary School in Mayfair where he had a technology exam at 9am.

Mqondisi Nyathi had no idea how to get to work. He hitchhiked to town, hoping to find taxis at the Bree Street rank.

When The Star caught up with him, he’d been waiting for an hour. He finally called his employer to come and pick him up.

“It would be better if they tell us in advance if there is a strike, so we can make plans,” he said.

JMPD spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane said the association only had permission to gather at the Newtown Park and march to the Gauteng Transport Department to hand over a memorandum.

“What they have done is illegal and their organisers are going to be held responsible,” she said.

Vusi Mazibuko, secretary of Utaf, said his association represented about 15 different taxi associations with similar grievances.

Their main concerns are: taxi permits taking too long to get, the JMPD impounding vehicles of drivers whose permits are pending and the JMPD “harassing” taxi drivers during peak hours. The taxis also want to use Rea Vaya bus lanes.

“We did not authorise our members to block highways or intimidate people. We have appealed to them to stop doing so,” he said.

Phumla Sekhonyane, spokeswoman for the Gauteng Education Department, said matrics would be able to write their exams even if they arrived late. Those who couldn’t get to school would be allowed to write in February, she said.