Taxi safety campaign stirs up hornet's nest
Johannesburg - The Safe Ride campaign to combat sexual violence against women in taxi ranks was launched on Wednesday at the Bree Street taxi rank, one of Gauteng's busiest transport hubs, to a mixed reception.
A joint effort of Sonke Gender Justice and the South African National Taxi Association Council, it’s focused on training drivers and marshals to respect commuters.
Santaco president Philip Taaibosch said taxi drivers should understand that they are not only providing transport but have a social responsibility to protect women/girl commuters from sexual violence perpetrators.
“We took a decision to protect women’s rights,” he said, “and we want to make sure that our passengers feel protected, because they are the ones making it possible for us to pay our bills.”
He said that the campaign was being launched in Gauteng because it was a very influential province.
“Together with Sonke Gender Justice, we will be able to move through the whole of South Africa, educating all taxi drivers about a better way to conduct themselves.”
Changing the mindset of taxi drivers and taxi marshals would not be an easy task, he admitted, as most of them continued to be aggressive towards women, especially when such topics were raised.
During the activation, a taxi driver, Sicelo Mchunu, debated with his fellow drivers who did not share the same sentiments on the issue that women and girls should be allowed to wear what pleases them.
“Taxi drivers should definitely be trained,” Mchunu said, “because they do not understand that everyone has a choice to wear what they want. If it is a mini-skirt or revealing cleavage.”
He pointed out that while township women and girls dress in mini skirts and taxi drivers do not react in an aggressive manner, they did not behave the same when that happened in the inner cities.
“Some taxi drivers are just being inconsiderate because if it was their sisters, they would not sexually harass them.”
‘You should be beaten up’
An aggressive taxi driver who identified himself only as Maxele, was vocal in his opposition to the message behind the Safe Ride.
“When you see a prostitute what must you do? Must we just look and think it is OK?”
Maxele said that taxi drivers and marshals should be left in peace.
“You people think we are stupid, you should be beaten up, as well as everyone that thinks we need any training.”
Executive director of Sonke Gender Justice Dean Peacock was optimistic that the taxi drivers and marshals' mindset would be changed as the Safe Ride campaign went on.
“Our end goal is to bring an end to sexual harassment in taxi ranks. We do not want women to ever have to worry about sexual violence.”
He said that although the first training would be in a form of talks and handing out flyers about the sexual offence act, Santaco would have to ensure that they monitor their staff.
“Santaco will have to do serious monitoring and ensure that there are serious consequences for the taxi staff who violate the sexual rights of others.”
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