Police and military personnel have ordered defiant taxi drivers to disperse.
A provincial taxi strike in Gauteng has disrupted the flow of Monday morning traffic as minibuses refuse to carry commuters and blockade major roadways.
The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has made good on its promise to ‘shutdown’ services in Gauteng despite Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s fervent pleas for calm.
The latest strike action comes amid growing tensions between taxi associations and government following a protracted coronavirus-induced lockdown which saw the public transport sector embattled by harsh revenue shortfalls.
Mbalula pleads with taxi drivers
In a last-ditch effort to avoid a taxi strike — which has now left thousands of commuters stranded at the most inopportune of times as South Africa’s economy attempts to resuscitate itself — Mbalula revealed that government would provide the industry with a once-off R1.1 billion bailout. Santaco argued that this amount was insufficient and, in addition to raising fares in an attempt to recoup losses, vowed to boycott the Monday morning commute.
Mbalula, who, on Sunday night, pleaded with taxi drivers ‘not to go to war’ with the state, argued that government simply did not have the funds to meet the associations’ demands. The transport minister reiterated that the taxi industry’s expectations were unrealistic and untenable, saying:
“Others are saying R20 000 per taxi, it is not possible because if you calculate that it is R10 billion. The government does not have that R10 billion.”
Santaco spokesperson Midday Mali promised that protest action in Gauteng would be peaceful and that operators had been warned not to disrupt alternative modes of transport.
Taxi strike: Deserted ranks and highway blockades
In the early hours of Monday 22 June, the reality of the Gauteng taxi strike presented a mixed bag; with some taxi ranks deserted in accordance with the boycott, while other minibuses obstructed traffic along major routes.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) — supported by the National Defence Force (SANDF) which had been deployed during lockdown to enforce stringent regulations — sprang into action. Taxi drivers which had blocked the Mabopane Highway in the direction of Soshanguve were ordered to disperse with immediate effect.
Meanwhile, the MTN taxi rank in Johannesburg central remained eerily quiet; with no taxis present and only a handful of commuters mulling about. A similar situation was reported in Kempton Park.
In other areas, including Laudium in Tshwane and Dobsonville in Soweto, taxi drivers blockaded roads and forced commuters off of busses.
This is a developing story – more details to follow