Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

The Ministry of Defence, Western Cape premier Lynne Brown and Cope have all poured cold water on Tuesday's threat by Cape Town mayor Helen Zille to "call in the army"against protesting taxi drivers.

Defence spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi told Sowetan that mayors did not have the authority to deploy the army.

"A mayor would have to approach the premier, who would then inform the MEC for safety and security, who would then ask the Safety and Security minister to request the Ministry of Defence for assistance. That is the process," Mkhwanazi said.

Cope's Western Cape leader Reverend Allan Boesak said not only did Zille not have the power to call in the army but that this "should be the last resort".

"We remember the days when the army was deployed against those who had grievances with those in power and resorted to civil disobedience.

"We never again want to see troops deployed against ordinary South African citizens," Boesak said.

But Zille's spokesperson Robert Macdonald told Sowetan that Zille was "working with premier Lynne Browne on this".

"They have had the army on stand-by before. It is standard procedure if there is a serious threat of violence. We are not going to take any chances," said Macdonald.

Brown's spokesperson Ann Wentzel said: "That is silliness. They came to the premier on Tuesday to ask her about bringing in the army. She said no.

"They agreed to work on a way forward but with no army. We don't want to make the situation worse than it is," said Wentzel.

Members of the National Taxi Association have burnt tyres in the city centre in violent protests against Cape Town's new integrated rapid transport system, which will bring all taxis, buses and trains under the control of one private company.

Boesak said: "Zille should have involved the taxi associations early last year when she first told the media about the new system.

"This lack of consultation may account for the tensions now being experienced," he said.

But Macdonald says Zille took leaders from the government-recognised South African National Taxi Council to South America last June to show them how an integrated transport system works.

"The NTA has risen to power with the support of illegal taxi operators who don't have permits. They are trying to usurp Santaco," Macdonald said.

"They don't want to be part of a system where all the taxis who have permits will get first option to be contracted companies to the new system."