Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has told the taxi industry that the government cannot afford more than the R1.135 billion relief it has offered.
On Monday, the SA National Taxi Council (SANTACO) in Gauteng went on strike, shutting down taxi transport and leaving thousands of commuters stranded.
Taxi operators protested and blockaded roads to demand at least R20,000 relief per minibus taxi. The government’s relief constitutes R5,000 per taxi.
Addressing the media in Soshanguve in Pretoria, Mbalula said slammed the strike as “counterproductive,” adding that the industry itself has suffered “billions” in losses as a result of the shutdown.
Govt ‘scraped bottom of barrel’
He said, “I cannot say the money is enough – it is a relief. I can’t go beyond R5,000. There are other industries that have closed down because of COVID-19. At no stage did I, or government, undermine the efforts of the taxi industry in terms of supporting preservation of life for our people.”
Mbalula said the shutdown had affected mostly black people who use taxis to go to work. The government and the taxi industry need each other to transform the industry, he added, and the challenges cannot be resolved “by blocking roads.”
“I wish to reiterate [that] we are in a position to provide what we can provide and we can’t go beyond that. There will be no money beyond that. We can’t take decisions in this country because we are being intimidated. Otherwise there will be no government,” the Minister argued.
Taking to Twitter afterwards, Mbalula also wrote, “The decision to avail R1.135 billion to the taxi industry as relief support was not an easy one. We literally had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to reach this amount, because we believe the taxi industry is deserving of support as the largest mover of our people.”
Support from EFF
Meanwhile, the taxi industry has received support from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). In a statement on Sunday, the party’s spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said the industry “is the best mechanism of wealth distribution.”
Pambo added, “We also call on a general ban on repossession of taxis by the South African banking industry. All taxis must be given an interest-free payment holiday for the entire year so that they can recover from economic strife.
“We call on other small businesses to join the taxi strike in demand [for] benefits from the Solidarity Fund. The solidarity relief funds must trickle down and relieve the bottom downtrodden businesses, particularly in black communities that never receive any help from white-dominated and owned banks.”
Earlier this month, SANTACO announced that various taxi structures across the country will increase fares. The SA Travellers’ Safety Association however criticised the decision.