File photo by Michael Walker.

Durban - Ten Durban minibus taxis owe the city R1.6 million in unpaid fines and the worst offender is the same Toyota Hiace that was used in the hijacking of a woman who was thrown off a bridge in 2009.

Last week eThekwini’s law enforcement body said it was owed R1.4 billion in fines. Topping the worst offenders’ list is GLAYER1ZN, which has 383 outstanding fines – totalling R195 200.

This vehicle made headlines in 2009 when it was reported as one of a group of taxis owing the city substantial fines.

The taxi was also the same one driven by Sibusiso Dlamini, the man convicted of throwing Kavisha Seevnarain off the Mkomazi River Bridge on the South Coast after hijacking her.

Seevnarain survived the ordeal, and Dlamini was sentenced to 40 years in prison. According to a police source, the taxi was registered to a Mr or Mrs Oliver, in Hillary.

Eugene Msomi, metro police spokesman, said taxi drivers had mastered the art of beating the system, making it very difficult for police to find offending drivers.

Despite the hefty fines accumulated by a particular taxi, the taxi owner could not be held accountable to pay the fines, he said.

“The fines fall on the driver, and while taxi owners are obliged to provide information and addresses of the offending drivers, it is an almost impossible task for police to track them down,” Msomi said.

Often the driver, when he had a lot of fines owing, left his job and moved to another owner.

Msomi said police stopped taxis that had outstanding fines, but often found the driver behind the wheel was not responsible for the fines.

“If we stop them and find that there are no outstanding fines or warrant of arrests for the driver, there is nothing we can do, and we let them go,” he said.

The offending drivers disappeared easily, often living in informal settlements, making the job of locating them difficult.

Msomi said the bottom line was that the system of collecting fines was inefficient, adding that government intervention would be welcomed.

Kwanele Ncalane, the provincial transport department’s spokesman, said a change in legislation was needed to force vehicle owners to take responsibility.

“We have been calling for a legislation change, so that owners can be held responsible, and the department has put forward amendments to the National Road Traffic Act,” he said.

An example he gave of the system’s failing was that if a vehicle was found unroadworthy, the driver was charged.

“But, we can’t say the owner is always to blame; there are some cases where the drivers are responsible.”

However, he said, in the case of taxis, there were certain taxi bosses who were only interested in profits, at the expense of the safety of their commuters.

Although taxis were in the forefront of infringing rules of the road, a portion of the fines owed were by ordinary citizens who simply failed to pay.

According to Stephen Tuson from the Wits University School of Law, this was a symptom of not establishing an “ethos of compliance” that was necessary in society.

“The attitude is, ‘If I can get away with it, I will try’,” he said.

Tuson added that the logistics of collecting the outstanding fines was a monumental task.

“If the majority of people start to break the law, it is impossible to deal with – the protocol system simply cannot handle it,” he said. - The Mercury

*** Update: In this article, The Mercury incorrectly stated that a taxi with the registration Glayer1ZN was used in the hijacking of Kavisha Seevnarain in 2009.

Although the taxi’s former driver, Sibusiso Dlamini, was convicted of the crime, the vehicle was not used to commit it. The error is regretted.