Taxi strike leaves workers stranded

Taxi commuters in Gauteng had to excuse themselves from work or find alternative means to get to work, including walking. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

Taxi associations in Gauteng staged a strike on Monday, 22 June, against the covid-19 relief grant from government.

Grayston Bridge over the M1 highway, the largest pedestrian bridge in Johannesburg linking Alexandra Township and Sandton, saw the highest volume of people ever to cross over it on the 22nd of June 2020. This was the result of a strike by taxi operators in Gauteng to protest the amount given to them from the Covid-19 Relief Fund. Thousands of workers were left stranded.

Those who more fortunate made alternative transport arrangements, or informed their bosses that they won’t be able to come or asked to be late, while others fearing warnings and deductions from their salaries simply walked to work. Most of these pedestrians were from Alexandra and walking to Sandton.

“I don’t normally walk but today I don’t have a choice. I work for a very tough boss. If I don’t show up, he’ll ask questions like, ‘why couldn’t you walk?’ you should have made plan’, etc. They are also retrenching so I can’t be on his wrong side,” said Connie Rasebotsa, a cashier at one of the filling stations in Sandton.

“Today means no income for me. I was supposed to go to town and stock people’s orders. They are waiting and I don’t like giving excuses to my customers,” said self-employed Moses Motsoamere. He sells a range of stylish branded clothes in and around Alexandra. “Government should really talk to taxi guys, people’s livelihoods are at stake here,” he added.

Although taxi associations promised a peaceful strike on the day, incidents of road blockades and intimidation of motorists were reported in some parts of Gauteng prompting intervention by the police and the Defence Force.

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“The thing is, as much as they are fighting for their rights, they are infringing on our rights as well. This morning I went to fetch one of my colleagues; lucky it was just the two of us in the car when they stopped us. If they found more than two in the car, they took passengers out of the car and left the driver. This is really not right,” says Jethro Mokoena who works for Auto and Truck Tyres in Germiston.

“We all know that during times like these there’ll be criminal elements taking advantage of situations. However, we’ve already spoken to our fellow organisations in affected areas to address the matter and deal with the culprits,” said Gabriel Mataboge, General Secretary of ATA (Alexandra Taxi Association). 

His counterpart from ARMSTA (Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand and Sandton Taxi Association) emphasised that the strike was just once-off industrial action and he apologised for the inconvenience caused to commuters and said their intention was to demonstrate to the government that the one billion rand (R1.135-billion, or R5,000 per taxi) offered as the covid-19 relief grant is not enough for the industry and they are not happy at all. Furthermore, he informed their passengers that they are going ahead with their annual price increase on the 1st of July 2020.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula lashed out at the industry, saying their actions were counterproductive and that resorting to shutting down services did not solve problems. He once maintained his department’s commitment to engaging with the industry on formalisation, subsidisation and a long-term empowerment model.

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