After The Bell: It’s Ordinary People Who Suffer Most During The Western Cape Taxi Wars

Hundreds of people walk home from the city centre along the N2 on 3 August 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa, due to the taxi strike. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

What is the most significant thing about the taxi violence in Cape Town? Well, there is much of significance. But one thing is that it’s happening in the Western Cape.

In some ways, these taxi strikes are a microcosm of SA – a battle between the forces of law and the forces of anarchic disintegration. I don’t know whether the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) is justified in its claims that taxis are being impounded because of minor issues like cracked mirrors. Neither am I sure whether the action stems from objections to national laws or municipal by-laws. It would be very helpful to have some useful data here.

But what I do know is that the taxi industry in SA is violent and thuggish.

There are plenty of lawful drivers and taxis in good order, sure. But generally, taxi drivers are a law unto themselves. They are dismissive of the rules of the road to the extent that they are a menace to their own customers.

The whole ducking and diving between traffic is like an elaborate game of chicken, except that lives are at stake. People laugh at this or shake their heads or throw up their hands in frustration. But if you witness a major taxi accident with severed limbs lying all over the road, suddenly nobody is laughing anymore.

Consider for a moment Santaco’s demands at the meeting with Western Cape transport officials: they want those taxis that have been impounded for “minor issues” returned. Fair enough. But they also want official permission to ride on the other side of the yellow lines which demarcate the space on the road designed for legitimate travel. This is not something the Western Cape administration can grant since it’s a national law, nor would they want to – the shoulders of roads are designed so that emergency vehicles can get to crisis points.

Think about what kind of assumptions would prompt Santaco officials to put that on the table – they are more important than any other road user and they are above the law.

While we ordinary civilians may think this is an outrageous demand, from the Santaco point of view, it must seem entirely logical because the Western Cape is the only place left in SA where their thuggery and law-breaking are even vaguely challenged.

They won the battle everywhere else in the country years ago.

The politicians are so desperate that taxi drivers don’t start badmouthing government; they get away with murder, literally in some cases. That’s why the location of this war – because that’s what it is – in the Western Cape is so noteworthy.

In some ways, this is a battle between enforcing regulations and people trying to eke out an existence in difficult circumstances in the transport industry. One sympathises.

The taxi industry is a crucial part of the economy, and the ability to make two trips or three during rush hour can make a big difference to your income as a taxi driver. A dedicated lane for taxis is not a terrible idea.

On the other hand, taxi drivers are responsible for a horrific amount of road carnage and brutality. You can see that in the organised violence that has taken place on the N2 outside Cape Town, with ordinary motorists being pelted with bricks and stones.

Santaco wants us to believe the Western Cape police were impounding taxis for trivial violations, but you know, maybe they were doing so for having tyres that are worn and dangerous or inoperative headlights and turn signals (not that they typically use these). But generally, that seems to me to be the more likely option.

The SA taxi industry war with the Western Cape administration is a battle going on between thuggery and lawfulness, as I mentioned.

But it’s also a war between resources and need. In those clefts are caught the hapless, helpless population of the country.

Source: Daily Maverick

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