Mixed feelings over taxis operating at full capacity
Commuters are scared of the possibility of getting infected with the coronavirus after taxis began loading at full capacity and resumed inter-provincial travel yesterday.
Long distance taxis began transporting passengers as early as 5am, most at 100% full capacity, defying government's lockdown regulations.
Commuters at Bara Taxi Rank in Diepkloof, Soweto, said they faced a double-edged sword regarding the taxi industry's decision to do away with loading passengers at 70% capacity.
"I am happy that taxi drivers won't be striking anymore. I didn't go to work last week because there were no taxis. But I am also a bit scared because you don't know who has this virus and if you'll catch it," Nthabiseng Mokoena said.
On the other hand, taxi operators who have not been able to work for three months were relieved.
"We chose to put our taxis on the road because we are hungry and [transport minister Fikile] Mbalula is giving us the runaround. We are tired. Banks want their money and have started repossessing taxis. We do not have an option now." said Thabo Gumede, a taxi owner at the Wanderers Street rank in the Johannesburg CBD.
Gumede owns taxis which travel between Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal.
The open defiance follows an announcement made by the South African National Taxi Council and the National Taxi Alliance that the industry should now operate vehicles at full load capacity and also resume inter-provincial travel. Taxi bosses threatened to shut all taxi operations if one vehicle was impounded by law enforcement.
Taxi bosses took the decision to defy the government after transport minister postponed a meeting with the industry four times, causing serious frustrations.
Yesterday, Mbalula had to answer several questions during a media briefing on the aviation industry.
"My plea to the taxi industry is that let us not promise war every time we differ about something. We appreciate the difficulty faced by the industry and it has set us on a collision course we don't need. Every time we differ, we should not promise [each other] war.
"You can't dare the state and say we will show you our muscle, we will fill the streets and render the country ungovernable," Mbalula told journalists.
Mbalula warned that the state would need to take action against those who deliberately transgressed on the lockdown regulations.
While the majority of taxi ranks that Sowetan visited in Gauteng loaded their vehicles to full capacity, there were some associations which stuck with the government regulations of 70% capacity.
Taxis that travel between Daveyton and Bushbuckridge, Venda, Giyani and Malelani kept their load at 70%. They, however, defied the government by resuming inter-provincial travel.
Rank master Thulani Ngomane explained: "Law enforcement has advised us to load to 70% capacity of the taxi in order for us not to get a fine. When level three of the lockdown began, we were informed that we should not operate to make profit. We decided to do this as long as the government required us to do so."
During the course of the day, law enforcement seemed soft to taxis as they were not impounded when leaving Gauteng, passing through roadblocks along the way. Previously, taxis found not complying with the lockdown regulations were impounded.
Mbalula was still in a meeting with the taxi bosses to find a solution at the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, clashes broke out between taxi drivers and the police in Mbombela, Mpumalanga. Commuters and members of the public ran for cover when police started firing rubber bullets.
At a roadblock in the CBD, a shot was fired following a scuffle between the groups. - Additional reporting by Mandla Khoza
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