Inquiry into Taxi Violence
The honourable MEC for Transport and Public Works, Mr Robin Carlisle, members of the national executive committee of Santaco, the honourable chairperson of Santaco Western Cape, Mr Vernon Billet, leaders in the taxi industry, fellow government employees, religious leaders, all other protocols observed.
This is a sad period in the history of the taxi industry in the Western Cape. Sad, because as an industry we have regressed, we have gone back to practices that nearly destroyed the taxi industry in the past.
As human beings and as associations or organisations we have to evolve, we have to constantly grow and, above all, we have to learn from past mistakes. As an industry we have taken some massive strides forward only to move back to the illicit or illegal practices that we vowed never to adopt again.
Between February 2010 and June 2012 we experienced a period of relative peace and stability in the Western Cape during which not a single taxi-related murder was reported. This was an unprecedented or unparalleled period in the Western Cape because up to then, violence was used to monopolise minibus-taxi routes and to extort money from operators. It was extraordinary because there was a paradigm shift in the taxi industry, the mindsets of operators were changed and violence of any form was strongly condemned. It was a period where people commented on the maturity of the taxi industry and during which this industry only prospered.
Few people will argue that minibus-taxis play a pivotal role in connecting people with social and economic opportunities. In fact, the services provided by minibus-taxis allow the most vulnerable of communities to actively participate in the economy.
Countrywide, minibus-taxis transport some 65% of the population. In Cape Town, minibus-taxis transport 29% of public transport passengers, almost double the amount of passengers transported by the heavily subsidised bus mode. People were starting to see the value of a united and peaceful taxi industry and the integral role this industry plays in the overall public transport system.
Violence has sadly stifled that progression and it has sundered or divided a once cohesive taxi industry. Fragmentation or division/factions is detrimental to the well-being of any organisation and I want to caution you today that while you are busy fighting, more and more illegal associations and operators are entering the industry undetected by simply exploiting the current chaos and uncertainty.
Allow me to use this analogy to explain the concept of taxi violence and how it impacts on the way people perceive the industry. Violence is that little black dot on an otherwise perfectly manufactured white seat.
It’s funny how people, when they look at that white seat, they always see the little black dot, ignoring the otherwise perfect design. If we don’t do anything about the violence, that little black dot will slowly but surely obliterate the entire white seat until everything associated with the taxi industry is regarded as bad.
Violence will desecrate or destroy years of hard work and sacrifice and passenger confidence in this industry will never again be fully restored. As a consequence of violence, passengers will simply move to a different and more safer mode of transport. You are losing passengers all the time and you need to arrest this decline.
If you talk to people now about the taxi industry, all the good work is simply ignored or forgotten and they only remember the violence and other bad practices.
At the root of this violence is overtrading, competition for passengers and route invasions.
We want to appeal to industry leaders to manage this business more responsibly and to remain committed to peace and stability. As leaders our commitment to unity, peace and stability needs to be beyond reproach and we need to lead by example.
We have to stop this practice of recruitment drives where new members are taken on and where exorbitant membership fees are charged. You should realise by now that government will only issue operating licences commensurate to passengers' demand.
There is no way that applications will be supported on routes that are already oversubscribed. The very people whose money you have taken will eventually turn against you when you renege on your commitment to secure licences. You can take my word for it, this will happen.
Run your association like a business and take the right decisions for that business to flourish. No one wants to run a business by constantly having to look over his shoulder and fearing for his life. Let us learn to co-exist and to respect the operating rights of others.
Don’t for a second think that you can simply have someone killed without any consequences. That person whose life you have taken is a father to someone, a husband to someone, a brother to someone, a friend to someone, and a mentor to someone. There will always be consequences. All you are doing is to create a culture of hatred, retribution and recrimination.
Those wounds do not heal easily and that vicious cycle is simply perpetuated. Violence breeds violence and there is always another maverick or militant young man that will come along and that will take out a prominent taxi leader because he knows that violence gains respect and power in the taxi industry. We have set a bad precedent for the taxi industry that is firmly entrenched.
The easy way out is to call for the assassination of another taxi leader because this is the way some operators opt to solve differences. We allow problems to fester and then simply get rid of the obstacle without considering how many other lives are impacted by that arbitrary decision. Families are left without a breadwinner, children are left without a father and society is deprived of certain skills. The economy of the Western Cape is also impacted.
Hindsight is a very exact science and what I mean by that is that we are always wiser after the event. You often hear people say that they should have done things differently or they should have adopted a different approach.
By then, sadly it is too late and the disastrous impacts of that decision cannot be reversed. We have to take the right and the most coherent or logical decisions as leaders when we are faced with that challenge.
In this industry mistakes can be costly and multiple lives can be lost. We have to learn to respect the value of human life and we have to learn to sit around the table and to resolve differences before lives are lost. We always want things to degenerate, to become worse before it gets better.
Eventually after many lives are lost, we sit around the table and we enter into peace agreements. It is sad, because so many lives could have been saved if this approach was adopted in the first instance. It is sad because those violent actions have irrevocable or irreversible consequences.
Why can we not as a first and only option learn to resolve our differences by means of deliberations?
I will tell you why, because pride simply clouds our good judgement in that moment. The Holy Quraan talks about the issue of pride. It says, even if your pride is the size of a mustard seed, you will never enter Jannah/eternity.
Pride is the downfall of many people and organisations and I want to encourage you to always advocate a peaceful, stable and prosperous taxi industry. To say that you are sorry or to compromise on your position does not necessarily mean that you wrong, it simply means that you value that relationship and human life more than you value your ego.
As a government, we will no longer stand by and witness one taxi leader after the other being slayed. This carnage although it has not quite reached the rampant proportions of years gone by, has to stop.
Between June 2012 and July 2013 some 35 taxi-related murder and attempted murder cases have been opened. I personally mourn every death in the taxi industry and it goes deeper than my skin. I have worked with this industry for 17 years and I take every single murder personally. These are people that I engage with daily and who have impacted my life. I think of the industry as more than just clients, these are friends and within the confines of the law we go that extra mile to assist this industry.
Urgent intervention is required and we are determined to put the perpetrators of violence behind bars. We have requested the South African Police Services to assign their best investigators to these cases and to re-open all the 2012 cases. We also asked them to improve intelligence around the taxi industry by creating a dedicated unit to deal with taxi-related matters.
As a department we will not mediate with groups who invade existing routes. Those people have to realise that they will not be able to shoot government in submission.
In the past we have rewarded perpetrators of violence by issuing them with operating licence. This will never again happen. The moment there is conflict in an area, all transactions on those routes in that area will immediately be stopped.
Here we are talking about every single transaction including renewals and replacements. When passenger safety is compromised, we will shut down operations by invoking the MEC’s powers in terms of section 91 of the National Land Transport Act and forthwith routes and ranks will be closed and affected operating licences will be suspended. If the situation deteriorates further and more operators are killed, we will shut down the entire Provincial Regulatory Entity until the area has been stabilised. We will also start to de-register associations who are involved in violence.
There will from now onwards be consequence for perpetrators of violence.
In the words of the honourable MEC Carlisle, I want you to all grow old and become wealthy and I want you to die in your beds of old age. Nothing would give me more pleasure.
Every taxi operator should have the good fortune to sit on the stoep one day and to enjoy the fruits of his labour. We want to for a change see happy endings in the taxi industry. Violence has for too long been a debilitating illness of the taxi industry. Let me remind you, in a war there are simply no winners and there are invariably casualties on both sides. Don’t become a statistic of taxi violence, make the right choices.
And then there are the unintended consequences of your actions which include the loss of passengers to other modes. It is time for a paradigm shift. Now is the time. Let us strive towards a peaceful, united and prosperous taxi industry in the Western Cape. Sekonjalo Kenako!!!
Let me leave you with these words, “to feel anger and resentment is only human but to forgive is divine. It is up there amongst the most sacred things that God has created”. The Quraan also contains the following scripture, “We are all borne with inner prejudice, though it is never too late to renounce it if we are prepared to let go of the ignorance that we harbour. Let us be the generation to start a revolution, a reform towards peace, unity and stability".