'Minister did not comply with the requirements of the Transition Act'

Getrude Makhafola

Getrude Makhafola

The problem-plagued taxi recapitalisation programme has been dealt another blow by a judge who set aside the deadline for owners to convert their old permits to new licences.

Durban high court judge Noel Hurt ruled in favour of thousands of taxi operators in KwaZulu-Natal, but his decision will affect all provinces.

The Department of Transport was ordered to set aside its deadline for operators to convert their permits.

Operators are required to convert their old permits into operator licences as part of government's plan to regulate the taxi industry.

National Taxi Alliance chairman Sicelo Mabaso said his organisation agreed with Hurt.

"This shows that what the department has done was to by-pass the law and its procedure and do things without proper consultation.

"This is their means of [excluding] some operators from the taxi industry," said Mabaso.

The department planned to recapitalise 80percent of South Africa's taxi fleet before 2010.

One aspect of the plan was to compel owners to get new licences for their vehicles. The deadline was first set for August 2005 but was later extended to May last year.

Owners who had not complied with the requirement and feared they would be pulled off the road for operating illegally, appealed against the manner in which the deadline had been set.

Bafana Mhlongo, of the KwaZulu-Natal Taxi Alliance, said most operators in the province had been operating without permits for years, hence the problems with the conversions.

"This ruling has shown how complicated and misinformed the programme is. The few operators who have permits are faced with problems at the Licensing Board every time they try to convert permits," he said.

"The minister did not comply with the requirements of the Transition Act in determining the cut-off date as he did. His determination was therefore the result of a failure to perform the functions required of him by the act and is reviewable by this court," said Hurt.

The judge also said that Transport Minister Jeff Radebe thought that he could "fix a cut-off date and then simply extend it if matters had not reached a satisfactory state of completion" by the deadline.

Transport spokesman Collen Msibi said his department was still studying the judgment.

Msibi said that nationwide 80000 operating licences have been approved from the 118 000 applications so far.