Upward of 15 million commuter trips daily would not happen without taxis, yet only buses and trains are subsidised by the government.
IT IS HARD to fake character. The latest taxi strike exposes our hypocrisy as a nation that is anti-poor to the core.
Commiserations to the commuters left stranded and for whom taxis are the only means of travel, and to whoever suffered loss due to the isolated incidents of violence and destruction of property.
As a nation, we are worthy of condemnation for ignoring the taxi industry for so long and for our double standards.
Let us get the numbers out of the way. Estimates by Transaction Capital are that 66% of public transport trips to work and 70% of trips by individuals to educational institutions use minibus taxis, in all more than 200 000 of them. Sixty-nine percent of households have no other means of transport besides minibus taxis. Compare that to buses and trains, which account for 21% and 13%, respectively. Upward of 15 million commuter trips daily would not happen without taxis. Yet only buses and trains are subsidised by the government.
Let us take this subsidy discourse further to show how elitist we are. Bombela Consortium, which according to its website has “to date transported more than 60 million passengers on our trains and have operated in excess of 380 000 individual (Gautrain) trips”, has received no less than R380 million (which has ballooned to more than R1 billion) annually in “patronage guarantee”.
In simpler terms, the Gautrain operators get compensated by the government for not making their revenue targets. On the other hand, taxis operate without a subsidy to transport millions daily.
Now, when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are forcing them to operate at 70% capacity, they are supposed to share a kitty of R1 billion. Hey, R5 000 a taxi is something, we say; and you spoilt lawless ruffians of our roads ought to be grateful.
Taxi operators witness the Treasury’s R200 billion guarantee for big banks, which are likely to repossess their taxis for non-repayment soon; read about R100 000 motorbikes as well as see government officials wearing expensive branded masks – while they ought to operate at less than their full capacity for a measly R5 000 in relief.
Some of us argue that taxis are a law unto themselves. We decry their non-compliance with the laws or that they do not pay tax. Sure, no one should be allowed to run a business without paying tax, and if they are found to be doing so, they must pay what they owe plus interest. No dispute there. However, why enforce compliance when the South African Revenue Service is allowing some businesses to defer their returns? If we are so concerned about taxis violating any laws, we surely cannot use this economic meltdown to remember our values?
We are like self-righteous buyers of stolen goods who furnish our houses with the proceeds of burglary and armed robbery, only to turn around and blame criminals for destroying society’s moral fibre.
Our neglect of the welfare of the poor majority got us here. We have sustained apartheid spatial planning and left underpaid workers spending too much travelling to work – and now we want to short-change their only means of transport? We are tripping on our own indifference. Let us pay taxis the R20 000 they want. We owe them our economy.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.