The Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula will have to navigate through some stormy waters as he would seek to accommodate taxi owners severely affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through a short-term relief fund.
He recently indicated in an address during a level 4 lockdown stage that he was “aware of challenging issues” in the minibus taxi industry, in particular those in connection with taxi operators contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to which many have not registered. As a result many among some of the of the estimated 100 000 taxi drivers employed in the sector may not qualify and may have not have benefitted from the UIF Covid-19 relief fund that government announced in April meant to benefit workers whose companies may have battled to pay them during the lockdown.
In its 2018/2019 annual report the UIF painted a worrying trend among many taxi operators, with a reported paltry 7,432 of them having registered for the fund. The number represented a mere 7,211 employees in the books of the UIF.
“Unfortunately, the taxi sector has been slow in complying with the fund’s requirements and continues to resist attempts by the fund to register as can be seen in the negligible increase in registration during the past year,” read the report.
Those close to ongoing behind the scenes negotiations involving the Minister and stakeholders in the taxi sector believe that there could be light at the end of the tunnel “on some immediate issues” than long term ones that affect the industry as the parties seemed to be agreeing on some of the issues.
Just in May, Mbalula told the media during COVID-19 stage 4 transport lockdown regulations update that there were a number of issues that were still to be addressed and out of which a ‘big announcement’ would be made.
“I have already Informed all the leaders in the industry …all of them from Taaibosch (Santaco president) and others about the issues. We shall be making that announcement soon,” said Mbalula.
While the ongoing talks around issues like government subsidy to the taxi industry continue and on how that would be implemented, industry leaders believe that the minister has the situation under control. A Gauteng-based member of a provincial and national executive committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak to the media, said the minister was handling the situation well. Unlike previous his colleagues in the position – many of whom seemed not to understand the dynamics of the taxis, Mbalula is the right person for the job who is not interested in getting himself involved in the politics of the industry, said the member.
“Do not forget that there are parties with personal interests than the interests of the taxi industry that always want their views to prevail. These people always want the minister to listen to them. But so far they are disappointed because this man wants all of us to work as the taxi industry and put away our differences,” said the member.
There are an estimated number of between 150 000-200 000 minibus taxi vehicles in South Africa, according to Stats SA. Many South Africans, especially the working class use taxis as their preferred mode of transport everyday.