Johannesburg - A national campaign which aims to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable of taxi commuters, namely women and children, launches in Johanesburg on Wednesday.
The Safe Ride campaign, initiated by the non-profit organisation Sonke Gender Justice in partnership with the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), will kick off at the Bree Street taxi rank.
The shocking assaults of women and children by members of the taxi industry frequently make headlines, with women often being harassed for wearing miniskirts or raped by drivers of taxis they had been passengers in.
Sonke’s community education and mobilisation unit acting manager, Nonhlanhla Skosana, said the programme aimed to “reduce the level of harassment against women and children and to educate the taxi drivers and queue marshals on preventing gender-based violence”.
“We also want to provide information for women commuters on where they can get help when they experience harassment or sexual abuse.”
The ongoing project would provide training to members of the taxi industry in the form of workshops and dialogues.
Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch said the taxi industry had a bad reputation and he was excited about how the campaign would reform it.
“It’s a male-dominated industry and we believe the campaign is going to contribute immensely to the advocacy for the respect of women and children and for other citizens of the country. It will also contribute to the commuter-taxi driver relationship. We believe it’s one way of installing dignity and respect.”
He said the response by those in the industry had been positive when he embarked on a roadshow to all the provinces.
Taxi drivers were responsible for transporting 15.5 million people on a daily basis and Santaco had close to 680 000 members.
The Danish embassy has provided the funding to get the campaign off the ground, with that country’s ambassador to South Africa, Trine Rask Thygesen, saying gender equality was a priority for the Danish government.
“It’s a priority for us to support other countries. South Africa has a lot of legislation that protects the rights of women and children, but there’s still a huge gap in implementation,” she said.
Thygesen said the campaign was a step in the right direction to breaking the silence around gender-based violence and society’s passive participation in it. Some of the most shocking stories stemming from the industry included that of taxi driver Vuledzani Ramulifho who, in 2013, was found guilty on 43 counts relating to the assault, robbery and rape of women.
Other horrific acts were committed by Booi Makhubela, 50, and his son Rodgers, 26, of Alexandra. The father and son duo were sentenced in 2011 to a collective 26 life terms for raping, assaulting and robbing 10 women in their taxi.
Last year, Lawrence Bila Mabunda was convicted of 21 rapes, 13 robbery charges and an attempted murder.
He met most of the women he raped at taxi ranks in Joburg, convincing them they were at the wrong taxi ranks and offering to accompany them to ranks where they could catch their taxis.
He would take them to a bushy area in Benrose and rape them before robbing them.
In 2011, around 50 taxi drivers harassed two teenage girls, taunting them about the length of their skirts, groping them and taking photos with their phones. Criminal charges were laid, but no arrests were made.
A similar incident had occurred at the Noord taxi rank in 2008, with taxi drivers stripping a young woman for wearing a miniskirt.