The taxi strike smashed the bubble we have been living in. Deep racial, political and economic differences surfaced to reveal that we have been silent on things that should matter more.
We have been brushing over old and new apartheid as if it should magically have no further consequences in 2023.
We have been rushed to embrace poorly developed reconciliation narratives that ignore the truth that we are still a very divided country, where black experiences of one of the most racist constituencies in the world over the past three centuries are supposed to be healed, forgotten and removed from all conversations and contexts.
Let me first deal with the taxi strike. That Santaco abandoned its commuters last Thursday with their announcement of an immediate strike was reprehensible and a betrayal of the working class – their loyal customers.
That the subsequent violence that followed their announcement was perpetrated against commuters who chose to use other forms of transport for work or school is even more reprehensible. That assets were destroyed and people killed will be for Santaco to account for. Washing their hands from these won’t make it go away.
Santaco represents taxi owners, many of whom are relatively affluent, politically well-connected, and operate an industry that has been slow to comply with necessary regulations.
The face of the industry, however, is not the owner but the driver and his sliding door operator. No one knows the identities of the owners, but everyone refers to the taxi driver.
Drivers I have spoken to tell me of their exploitative working conditions, and that they fear for their lives daily when there are taxi disputes about routes or disputes between local associations. They are the ones who are shot, maimed or killed.
One driver said the reason they are perceived to drive fast past an area or swing suddenly into another lane is that they may fear that a hitman may be in the vicinity. Their working conditions are horrendous. It is these individuals who carry Cape Town's labour force to work. It is a thankless job.
When the City and Provincial leadership embarked on calling them thugs and lawless, it characterised them without contextualising their lived experiences. Most of the wealthy and middle-class Cape Town has taken to deconstruct the privileges and entitlements apartheid conferred on them as free of racism and discrimination towards others.
Therefore they sit in their privileged enclaves pronouncing on individuals they have never spoken to, for all they believe is that “these people who don’t follow the rules are thugs and lawless”.
But most of privileged Cape Town don’t care to know that “these people” are of the most lowly paid in the city, fear for their lives daily, and have never received counselling for the trauma they live with, and are often fired at will.
Were Cape Town a city where its governance was less historical, it could have dealt with last week’s law enforcement in different ways that still accomplished the message that the rule of law matters.
Tragically, the emergence of an enforced single narrative culture – a great city of law and order – disregards everything else that is not part of that preferred single narrative and treats everything else as being of no consequence.
When the City and Provincial leaders roll out their negative narratives about taxis, it seeks to make that the only narrative. It’s not. When you see a rushing taxi driver, see an individual who is trying to earn an average of R200 a day. See apartheid spatial planning at work. See an individual dealing with his trauma his way.
The saddest part for me, when I read the City’s announcement of the end of the strike, is that it was filled with triumphalism. It read like a victory dance, another enforced subjugation. Nothing about it spoke with an understanding of the taxi industry. And therein lay the seeds of the next taxi strike.
* Lorenzo A. Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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