Johannesburg - The violence-torn taxi industry in Gauteng is infiltrated and manipulated by various police officers - who themselves own taxis - through their collusion with the provincial government’s roads and transport officials.
These officials were responsible for fuelling taxi violence in Gauteng. As the violence continues, officials continue to get fat cheques through the payment of massive bribes while more lives are lost.
These were the shocking submissions made by Gauteng Roads and Transport Department head Ronald Swartz and his chief director Bonga Majola on Thursday during the portfolio committee on roads and transport’s inquiry hearings on taxi permits and licensing, which began in the legislature, sitting at Reef Hotel in the Joburg CBD.
While Swartz gave an overview of the horrors, Majola focused on the details which gave a gloomy picture of the industry and the life-threatening dangers faced by commuters.
But Swartz maintained that the situation was not rife among his officials, saying the few corrupt officials had tarnished the image of the entire department.
He threaded cautiously in his presentation and evidently avoided singling out the culprits.
Unlike Swartz, Majola was blunt but also failed to reveal the identities of the actual perpetrators saying: “I want to see the next Christmas.”
Majola confirmed that their officials were colluding with police and taxi operators to issue fake licences, but said not a single official had been charged for it.
“It is due to the fact that no one came up with information that could assist us to prosecute them. They are still in our system. In some instances, we have metro police officers coming to our offices in uniforms to enquire about their taxi licence applications,” Majola said.
He said the department was hamstrung to act against them due to lack of such powers to arrest and prosecute. Majola said such information was known to the intelligence services, but was surprised it did not prompt them into action.
Majola said taxi operators had, throughout the province, established factories to manufacture fake taxi operating licences.
“We made the discovery after a number of face-value certificates were stolen from our department.
“We opened a criminal case at Johannesburg Central police station, which yielded no results. Several taxi drivers were found in possession of face-value certificates - which had the serial numbers of the stolen numbers - but nothing was done against them. We do not have a report,” Majola said.
He maintained that taxi drivers go to these factories to “procure licences and operate on Gauteng routes without a legal permit”.
Majola made another shocking revelation, saying the national government - especially the National Land and Transport Act (NLTA) of 2009 - does not have a law that prohibits taxi violence and regulates the activities of taxi association and the usage of routes.
He said such prohibitive laws existed during the introduction of the National Transitional Transport Act of 2000, but ceased to operate during the promulgation of the NLTA in 2009.
He conceded that section 50 of the act does clearly determine who should use the country’s routes, including taxis, but maintained that it fell short on governing the behaviour of taxi associations and the use of roads.
Majola said it was due to that gap in the law that Gauteng was experiencing a large number of illegal taxis on the roads, resulting in the upsurge of violence.
Detailing the department’s frustrations, Majola said it was difficult for his department to defend itself in court when facing litigations lodged by illegal operators.
The hearing heard that in Gauteng there are 177 taxi associations, but most members have failed to provide the department with the necessary documentation to get valid operating licences.
Swartz faced a grilling from committee members who questioned their inability to hire people on time over the years - prompting one of the committee members, Dr Neil Campbell, to ask: “When will this s**t come to an end?”
The hearing continues.
It’s ‘survival of the fittest’
Gauteng taxi operators are greedy, which leads them to commit horrendous murders.
This was the testimony of National Taxi Association general secretary Alpheus Mlalazi during the inquiry hearings on taxi permits and licensing on Thursday.
“For the past four months, every day a taxi driver, operator and commuter was killed - mostly in assassination fashion. The constitution of our country assures us that the right to life for every citizen must be protected by the state. But since the killings, no one was arrested, charged or prosecuted.
“Gauteng graves are littered with the bodies of taxi leaders but the killers continue to roam our streets,” Mlalazi said.
He said the killings were prompted by illegal operators who were invading taxi routes, leading to violent and fatal exchange of fire.
“In most cases, the fittest survive while the weak die,” Mlalazi said.
He urged the Gauteng portfolio committee on roads and transport to ensure criminal cases were pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.
Mlalazi conceded that taxi violence was also influenced by internal conflict within the same association by people who failed to account for financial misconduct saying “those questions get eliminated”.
He also admitted that most of them were involved in illegal taxi operations, fostered by rapid urbanisation, the establishment of malls and an ever-increasing number of informal settlements.
“We had to procure more taxis because of the developments in the province but we were unable to get permits from the municipalities. With the increasing number of malls and shacks we had to get more taxis and operate them illegally.”
Mlalazi said he believed the government planned to kick taxis out of business and replace them with Rea Vaya buses.