South Africa's taxi industry raises safety concerns for government
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DURBAN - Since the beginning of the lockdown on 27 March, the South African government has reiterated the need for safety in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Many of the concerns about the spread of the virus were based around the taxi industry and their operating capacity - at the beginning of the lockdown taxis were allowed to carry only a 50 percent load.
However, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) shot down these regulations and demanded that they be amended. On 1 April, minister of transport Fikile Mbalula announced that taxis would be allowed to carry a 100 percent load of passengers, provided all passengers wore face masks.
Then in a dramatic turn, Mbalula announced on the same day, that taxis would be able to operate at 70 percent capacity WITH OR WITHOUT masks.
Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema responded harshly to the department’s decision in a tweet, on 2 April.
“If the state is not going to be firm and not negotiate with any non-essential sector of the economy for relaxation of lockdown regulations, this lockdown will collapse, barbarism will emerge and the deadly coronavirus will spread like wildfire: millions will die. Stop it cowards.”
Santaco then proceeded with a nationwide taxi strike, which "demanded" that the government meet their needs.
This strike was because of the Covid-19 relief fund (R20,000 per taxi), which according to taxi owners was too little, as they would fail to meet loan repayments on their taxis.
Santaco said that they would operate at 100 percent without the government's approval.
Responding to Santaco, Mbalula on 28 June said: “It is rather unfortunate and regrettable that the taxi industry leadership has elected to violate the law and forcefully load taxis at 100 percent capacity and undertake inter-provincial operations without the requisite permits, rather than await a decision on the matters they have tabled.”
Now, as the coronavirus is reaching its peak in South Africa, Mbalula has announced that taxis are allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity for inter-provincial travel.
“Consultations with health experts were undertaken and their additional recommendations in the face of the increased loading capacity were duly considered and accepted,” Mbalula said in a statement on Thursday.
The minister also said that disinfecting vehicles, sanitising and social distancing have been placed squarely in the hands of public transport vehicle owners.
Furthermore, the original argument by Santaco was that they operate at 100 percent because of taxi owners failing to make loan repayments.
However, Mbalula also announced on Thursday that the department of Transport has entered negotiations with banks on behalf of the taxi industry, to prevent repossessions.
“Banks have been responsive to our proposals. We are not a trade union to the banks. We have also held productive engagements with the Banking Association of South Africa on further relief measures they can extend to the taxi industry,” Mbalula said.
“We are happy to indicate that the banks have been responsive to our proposals to provide appropriate financial relief. Individual banks have their own procedures and measures in place and will make appropriate pronouncements in this regard.”