The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) supports the grievances and demands by the taxi drivers and taxi operators, but condemns the violence that has accompanied the strike. 

Grievances and demands by taxi operators 

Taxi operators and drivers have on many occasions reported to us, as is reported elsewhere in the media, that the City of Cape Town seem to have embarked on a relentless programme to liquidate them. 

In discussions we have had with them, the Taxi operators have made it clear that they are not asking for exemptions or favours to be allowed to operate outside the ambit of the law, but want to be treated fairly just like other motorists or means of transportation such as the private bus companies. 

SAFTU agrees with the taxi associations that they should not be exempted from observing traffic regulations. Traffic laws applicable to all citizens must equally apply to the taxi industry. This is however not the case across the country. The City of Cape Town has for years been targeting the taxi industry, harassing them with “unjustified” traffic fines, refusing to grant them operating permits for new taxis and impounding of their taxis. 

In media reports, taxi drivers in Cape Town have complained that their taxis are sometimes impounded for “frivolous things such as a driver smoking while driving alone”. In other instances, they are impounded for having an “elbow out” or “cracked number plates.” That a taxi is impounded because a driver has their elbow out or that a driver is smoking alone in the taxi is absolutely unreasonable and unjust. The officials of the City of Cape Town metro are demonstrating a clear bias, especially because South Africa has not outlawed smoking in a car if there are no children, let alone when the taxi driver is alone. 

For other small traffic offences such as not having a driver’s licence, the absence of the Public Drivers’ Permit (PDP), car disc expiry, not putting safety belt on, driving over the yellow line and driving in unpermitted roads (off-route), the City of Cape Town decides to impound taxis instead of issuing appropriate fines. Releasing taxis from impounds is more costlier than paying fines. Thus, it direly affects the ability of the taxi operators to maintain their businesses. The consequences (and maybe even the intention) of this deliberate harassment is two-pronged: it boosts the municipal fiscal space whilst pushing the small businesses (in the form of taxi operators) out of business. 

It might be true that the city has targeted the taxi industry as a site to raise extra revenue through unjustified impounds, especially if we consider reports that this year alone, the Cape Town Metro has impounded about 700 taxis. And given that the minibus taxi industry is dominated by black people, this biased harassment towards taxi drivers gives credence to the claims that they are prejudiced against black people. 

Because of these legitimate grievances that relate to the everyday plight of taxi operators, SAFTU supports the strike. This plight, in the form of these harassments, is endured mostly by the taxi drivers. SAFTU condemns the harassment of taxi drivers and the impounding of the taxis for frivolous reasons. 

Condemns violence 

The strike that is unfolding as a result of these grievances and demands has regrettably resulted in violence. This violence, which includes burning of buses and stoning of private vehicles belonging to ordinary workers and community members, is putting the lives of the working-class people in danger. On the morning of 07 August 2023, media reported that two people died, whilst three were injured in two different shootings. In addition, the pelting of private cars will leave the already indebted working-class people in debt with damaged property. 

SAFTU strongly condemns the criminal elements and the thuggery that characterises the strike. The law enforcement agencies have to protect the lives of ordinary working-class people and arrest the criminal elements that are fermenting the violence. 

Taxi exceptionalism proven wrong 

In 2022, SAFTU invited SANTACO to join the national strike that was planned to raise amongst others the transport crisis in this country, but SANTACO rejected the call. Our call for the national shutdown was nothing but a call for the withdrawal of labour power, and on the part of SANTACO, a call for them to not ferry anyone to the industrial zones. They repeated their refusal to join protests of the working class during the national shutdown in March 2023 called by the EFF. This refusal re-affirmed a form of exceptionalism that superficially separates the plight of the workers in the taxi industry from the issues that affect all other workers in the economy and thereby divide the taxi drivers from their worker counterparts. 

The character of this protest, which virtually has little sympathy from the working class, is a result of this division. Instead of gaining solidarity from the communities and workers in general, adventuristic methods are used to have a successful victory. It could have been easy, on the basis of solidarity with other workers and communities, to force the City of Cape Town to meet their demands. 

Taxi drivers and other workers in the taxi industry are workers too. Beyond the strike, they should join SAFTU in forging unity of all sections of workers across the economy and build solidarity for future battles. SAFTU is organising taxi drivers, and other workers in the taxi industry into a trade union of taxi workers called Qina Mshayeli (Qina National Public Transport Workers Association). 

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