Business ground to a stand still on Tuesday in the Durban Central Business District after hundreds of taxi drivers and owners went on strike demanding the return of more than three hundred taxis that had been impounded by the metro police officials for not having permits.
The wrath of the taxi men was started when the traffic police in the coastal town went on a rampage and impounded taxis that did not have operating permits in the last few weeks. The taxi owners were not happy with this state of affairs and expressed their displeasure by embarking on a strike which could have turned nasty owing to the weaponry that they carried as they went about their business. A number of the strikers had guns while others were seen brandishing sticks and other weapons.
In addition, the strikers were seen erecting barricades, burning barricades and attacking vehicles of independent travelers. Speaking to the media, one of the strikers who is also a taxi owner, Khanyisile Mthethwa said, “They must release the 380 taxis or nobody will be able to go to work in Durban. It is not our fault that these vehicles don’t have permits. We have been applying but officials at the offices are not doing anything about it.” Responding to questions about their stance on the strike, eThekwini Municipality manager Sibusiso Sithole professed ignorance at the issues involved in the strike when he said, “At this stage we are not clear what the issues are that have led to the strike by members of the taxi industry. We are hoping that a formal meeting which will be convened will indicate what their demands are and how we can engage to find solutions to those demands.”
There are, however, murmurings around the issues involved, with some saying that the real reason for the strike has nothing to do with the impounded taxis but rather that the strike was about the GO! Durban, a project that the eThekwini Municipality is embarking on to try and improve the transport situation in Durban. This is much like the Reya Vaya project in downtown Johannesburg and taxi operators in Durban feel that the project will mean a loss of their livelihood. Says Bafana Mhlongo who is secretary of the South African Taxi Alliance, “We are victimised. We have been asking questions about this project but nobody is telling us anything. We started this transportation industry from scratch and we cannot allow anybody to take away our livelihood.” However, Zingisani Nkanjeni, spokesman for the Public Transport Voice, an NGO that speaks on behalf of commuters will have none of that. He argues that the eThekwini Municipality should move with haste and apprehend those found to be in the wrong.