Taxi industry operates in the shadows and thrives on lawlessness, dysfunction
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Just a week ago, members of the taxi industry emerged as heroes as they organised themselves to protect property amid the worst incidents of public violence South Africa has seen since 1994.
But, this week, we’ve seen the dark side of an industry that has for too long operated in the shadows, while thriving on lawlessness and dysfunction.
For months, a taxi war has been raging in the Western Cape over access to routes. Seventy-nine people, including passengers, have been killed.
The Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations are waging a war over routes, leaving countless commuters stranded.
Golden Arrow Bus Service, which has no relation to the taxi industry, has had to suspend services after one of its drivers was shot on Monday.
While Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has been down to Cape Town to resolve the differences between the warring parties, authorities have been unable to bring minibus taxi operators to heel, despite numerous policy proposals over the years to formalise the industry.
Some estimate that the taxi industry, as a whole, is worth more than R90 billion in annual revenue.
But when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was questioned in Parliament, back in May, he said the industry contributed only R5 million in corporate income tax.
It does not take a tax professional to see the disconnect.
The minibus taxi industry can be a catalyst for real broad-based BEE in the automotive sector (and others) by controlling the industry’s value chain from financing to manufacturing.
But, for too long, the minibus taxi industry has been stuck in silos and short-term thinking, which often leaves them to fight (and kill one another) for the scraps off the table of an economy worth trillions of rand.
The minibus taxi industry has shown that despite its history of violence, it can be a force for good.
But before it can spur growth and profit from that economy, it needs leadership that will bring about a change in mindset, away from an industry that sees only short-term goals.