The taxi strike that cost five lives, saw buses and cars torched and stoned, and threw Cape Town into chaos is not the first and it won’t be the last, warns mayoral committee member for urban mobility Roberto Quintas.
In Hout Bay, police report that eight vehicles were damaged during the violence including one in which 27-year-old Saffron Walsh, who was still recovering from brain surgery, was hit in the head with a brick (“Taxi violence deals double blow to ‘gutsy’ Saffron”, Sentinel, August 18).
Speaking at the Cape Town Press Club, in Newlands, on Monday August 28, Mr Quintas, who is the ward councillor for Hout Bay, said the strike by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) Western Cape over taxi impoundments by the City for traffic violations followed similar incidents.
In November last year, Golden Arrow and MyCiTi buses were torched in Khayelitsha and Imizamo Yethu, and in February this year, a planned strike was called off at the last minute following negotiations.
Mr Quintas said the City had about 400 minibus taxis impounded, and each one was the equivalent of 500 issued fines.
One week before the “wildcat” strike, Santaco had sent a letter to the Minibus Taxi Task Team – which was set up with Santaco, City and Province representatives shortly after the called-off February strike – stating it would no longer attend the meetings.
Then, on Thursday August 3, with a concentration of impoundments in the CBD and road closures due to the Netball World Cup, it was “like lighting a match with a tinder box”, he said, adding that live rounds had been fired at law-enforcement officers.
Mr Quintas said he and Mobility MEC Ricardo Mackenzie had presented a “sweet deal” to Santaco leadership on Friday evening August 4 and Wednesday afternoon August 9 to end the strike.
The taxi representatives had been “nodding and smiling” and had been ready to sit down and talk about what issues they thought would be acceptable grounds for impoundment, but two days later, Santaco had come back with further demands that were not part of the deal, he said.
Mr Quintas said mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, Premier Alan Winde, Police Oversight and Community Safety MEC Reagen Allen and mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith had all met with Santaco until late on Thursday August 10, when Santaco had agreed to end the strike. A further meeting with Santaco had followed on Friday August 11.
Under the terms of the deal that ended the strike, Santaco must give at least 36 hours notice of any future strike, and it can’t announce one in the middle of a working day. Mr Quintas noted that there was also a dispute-resolution clause that allowed for the taxi industry to meet with the mayor or premier if they felt their grievances were not being adequately addressed. Failing that, the parties must submit to 36 hours of both arbitration and mediation.
It was also agreed that for 14 days following Monday August 14, the Minibus Taxi Task Team would seek agreement on what constituted major impoundable offences and minor infringements, and the appropriate penalty for the latter. And Mr Hill-Lewis invited Santaco to submit specific cases of vehicles they claim to have been impounded for minor offences.
Meanwhile, on Friday August 18, the Western Cape High Court dismissed, a Santaco application to interdict the City from impounding more minibus taxis. The order said impoundments would continue under the National Land Transport Act (NLTA), based on the agreed offences, while the Minibus Taxi Task Team concluded its work within a 14-day period.
Mr Quintas said Santaco had gained absolutely nothing from its eight-day strike across the province. Cape Town had set an important precedent for South Africa’s future by steadfastly refusing to capitulate to “violence and anarchy”, he said.
The Minibus Taxi Task Team had held frequent meetings since the called-off February strike, and 2675 operating licences had been granted in record time, he said.
Furthermore, the Brackengate route between the R300 and Brackenfell Boulevard had been officially established in June, and taxi drivers could no longer be fined there for driving off route.
On Monday August 28, the Minibus Taxi Task Team started an imbizo to thrash out which of the 46 contraventions of the taxi-operation licence under the NLTA should be deemed grounds for impoundment.
Some, such as smoking in a taxi, were minor offences, but others, such as driving a non-roadworthy vehicle or driving without a licence, placed passengers and other road users in danger and were non-negotiable as grounds for impoundment, said Mr Quintas.
He said the City planned to sue Santaco to recover the costs of the strike including the loss of a MyCiTi bus, six other municipal vehicles and a clinic in Khayelitsha.
Golden Arrow Bus Services spokeswoman Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, who attended the talk, said ten Golden Arrow buses had been torched in the strike.
Santaco provincial deputy chairman Nceba Enge declined to comment on the Minibus Taxi Task Team, saying negotiations were still ongoing. “All that we can say is that the meeting is progressing well at the moment,” he said.