SUBMISSION BY THE KWAZULU-NATAL MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, MR S NDEBELE (MPP) TO THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO TAXI VIOLENCE AND OTHER RELATED MATTERS

Issued by: Kwazulu-Natal Minister of Transport

12 September 2000

Preface

I would like to start by thanking the Honourable Judge, Mr. G. Alexander and his commissioners for giving me the opportunity to make my submission for consideration. And also extend my gratitude to you for availing your services for the purpose of helping us to remove the scourge of violent conflict within the taxi industry.

I was sworn in as Provincial Minister of Transport on the 22nd May 1994.

One of my main priority tasks was to attend to the minibus taxi industry. It was clear that the issues to hand were not solely those involving the question of taxi violence, but also the complex structural foundations and weaknesses of the industry.

Introduction

In my submission to the Commission I will be dealing with the following issues. They are:

Before I deal with the evolution of our strategy and programmes I will just briefly outline the present situation.

1.1. The Registration Process.

There are 287 minibus taxi associations which have been provisionally registered in terms of the KwaZulu-Natal Interim Minibus Taxi Act (No 4 of 1998). This provisional registration kick starts three processes. Firstly the conduct of hearings in cases wher e there are competing claims over routes and membership. Secondly, to conversion of radius-based permits to route-based permits. The records indicate that the Road Transportation Board will have to convert some 8,5000 radius permits into route based permit s. The third process is the legitimization of the many illegal operators.

1.2 Democratization

Alongside this process is the drive to democratize the taxi associations. This process is a critical aspect of the regulation, transformation and empowerment of the industry. The process ensures that executive decisions taken by leadership enjoy the mandate and support of the ordinary members. It also ensures that any discussions between government at all levels and representatives of the taxi industry cannot be questioned or challenged on the basis of lack of mandate or incorrect process or procedure.

Over the past six weeks, 277 associations have gone through internal organisational elections. These elections were based on secret ballots and all of the other procedural criteria of democratic elections. These elections were conducted by fully mandated electoral officers. The taxi industry has not only participated but has been tremendously enthusiastic in its approach to the process.

These elections culminate in regional and provincial elections which should be held by the beginning of October.

2. With regard to this process, KwaZulu-Natal is second only to Gauteng in the extent to which democratization has been implemented.

3. From the outset, our guiding principles were as follows:

- government
- minibus taxi owners
- operators
- minibus taxi associations
- commuters
- private service industry to the minibus taxi industry

4. This approach was founded on a fundamental perception of the relevance of the minibus taxi industry and its future role in the South African economy and society. In short, the minibus taxi industry is a triumph of black entrepreneurial spirit and is abs olutely central to the economic growth, development and upliftment of black people.

5. In approaching this issue, it was clear from the outset that a two-pronged strategy was required. This was as follows:

6. In developing this approach, government was responding not only to its own ideas and researched analysis of the problem, but also to deeply felt and publicly expressed feelings by commuter organisations.

For example, on the 11th November 1994 women's organisations made the following public comments about the minibus taxi industry. They said:

In developing our policy towards the minibus taxi industry government is certainly not operating without a mandate.

7. We also recognise that our two-pronged approach has to be conducted through a process of consultation and negotiation so that the very process becomes part of achieving the essential goal. In other words, the various role players in the industry had to begin to trust and work with each other. Participation in the process of consultation and negotiation was absolutely crucial to establishing that needed degree of mutual trust and respect.

8. Within this process and its two-pronged integrated implementation strategy, there are however three fundamental point that everybody, including all involved in the minibus taxi industry must accept. These are:

It should also be noted that the government has received unanimous support for this approach from all leading sectors in black commerce. For example on the 26th May 1995 the Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services praised the taxi industry for its past struggles to advance but agreed with government that it was time to regulate the industry.

The government's approach has always been that regulation, restructuring and empowerment will be accomplished through negotiation with all the major players. This approach has also been welcomed by leading black economic interest groups, the press and the taxi associations themselves.

For example, as was publicly reported, on the 16th August 1994, when I announced a future taxi indaba, I stated that "the time has come to stop shooting and to start talking." Again, on the 14th March 1995 when opening the taxi conference I stated that I would not allow the province to "descend into anarchy" through taxi blockades and other illegal acts by taxi owners and operators. On the 25th February 1996 when I announced the decision to appoint a Taxi Registrar, I was correctly reported as having stat ed that:

"Economic thuggery will no longer be a viable option. .. I will not allow any rogue element to interfere with the process. " This was immediately after taxi violence and `Wild West` shootouts in Durban. I have re-stated these very same points during the course of the present violence in the long distance taxi industry operating from Durban.

9. Before dealing with present national and provincial government policy and its implementation, let me briefly take the Commission through the history of black transport in South African and the state of the modern minibus taxi industry which we inherited from the Apartheid state.

As colonial capitalism expanded through the sub-continent and swept aside the African peasantry, many Africans turned to transport riding, using horse, mule and ox hauled wagons to carry goods and people throughout the vast sub-continent. The advent of the state-owned railway system saw the demise at this venture in African capitalism.

However, during the Segregationist era leading up to Apartheid, the state provided little public transport for Africans migrating to and from the cities in their hundreds of thousands. Again Africans responded to a crying need and began to develop their ow n private taxi and bus companies. This they did with no financial assistance from the state: indeed the state tried to prevent such operations.

During the 1950s and 1960s black pirate taxis provided a crucial commuter service for urban Africans and those moving to and fro between the city and countryside. They were severely harassed by the Apartheid state who wanted all Africans to use rail and state-subsidized bus transport. This was within the wider state policy of stopping Africans from owning and running their own modern businesses.

However, the African taxi business continued despite all adversity: we will remember the Valiant car taxis of the 1960s and 1970s.

Then came the minibus revolution. At first all these taxis were unlicensed, then the government tried to regulate the industry. In trying to thus regulate the government's aim was actually to reduce the number of taxis and protect the state-subsidized mono poly of PUTCO (Public Utility Transport Company). But despite harassment, pirate and licensed minibuses continued to operate alongside each other.

By the mid 1980s the government literally walked away from the problem and, in effect, created a situation where anyone could operate a taxi. In essence the minibus taxi industry moved from a history of draconian regulation and harassment to total de-regulation. The taxi industry was in deep crisis.

10. In 1994 the state of the industry can be characterised in the following ways. On the one hand it:

This is an industry which contributes hugely to our formal economic system.

However, the industry was beset with problems. It was:

11. In March 1996 I convened a Taxi Summit attended by all associations in existence at that time. This Summit signalled the end of the era of government neglect wherein the past only rail and bus transport were considered for financial support by government. This was now to change.

But for government to support the industry, several steps have to be undertaken to get its own house in order. Needless to say, this had to be discussed and agreed within the industry. For that to happen, a Provincial Taxi Task Team had to be set up with 5 0/50 representation from government and the industry. Government was represented at provincial and local level. The industry had to bring forward those men and women who could represent it in this crucial transitional period. It had to be done within two weeks. It was not to be. It took from March to November 1996 for the industry to agree on its representatives. Such was the level of mistrust within the industry.

12. The KZN-TTT identified four areas within the minibus taxi industry which needed immediate attention and new policy formulation. These were:

The KZN-TTT believed that policies and programmes which focused on these four areas would both transform the industry and provide it with a competitive edge in the public transport industry.

13. In October 1995 the KZN Taxi Task Team was formed of four taxi associations to formulate policy concerning the smooth restructuring of the industry, self-regulation and to address taxi violence.

14. In September 1996 the KZN-TTT opened a Taxi Office which was formed to act as a link between the government, the taxi associations and the public.

15. The same month a Taxi Registrar was appointed to exercise control, supervise routes and preside over the registration of the industry. All taxi associations were given the opportunity to register, beginning the process of turning taxi associations into legal entitities.

16. Each of the programmes were provided with resources, dedicated team and office space to implement various mandated projects.

17. The formalisation of the industry became the sole responsibility of the Registrar's office. This Office is also tasked with the responsibility of managing and resolving conflicts in partnership with the Task Team.

18. It incorporated four action plans

  1. The registration of associations, members and their vehicles
  2. Legitimisation of illegal operators through the Local Road Transportation Board
  3. The development of a standard constitution to be used by associations and the provincial umbrella body.
  4. The development and management of a conflict resolution system. This is done in conjunction with a Conflict Resolution Committee of the KZN-TTT.

19. On the economic empowerment front the approach we adopted was the creation of fourteen co-operatives owned by taxi operators in the province.

20. From these 14 co-operatives a Provincial Investment Company -Umthombo Investments was formed 100% owned by the various regional co-operatives.

21. The strategy is for the taxi industry to attract outside capital investment and its integration to the mainstream of the economy.

22. Let me deal with the issue of taxi violence. As stated in my previous public statements we have identified two types of taxi violence.

a. Structural violence

This relates to taxi conflicts emanating from route contestation and intra-association differences caused by a lack of democratic practices within associations.

Such conflicts are managed and dealt with through the structures and mediation procedures developed as part of the Interim Minibus Taxi Act, no.2 of 1998.

We believe that we have generally managed to resolve most of these type of conflict.

b. Criminal Violence

The second type of conflict has pure criminal characteristics. There exists within the industry elements involved in criminal activities.

23. These elements are well-resourced and instill fear to other operators. They are running mafia-type operations. Financial extortion is the order of the day.

24. To deal with this problem I set up a Commission of Inquiry chaired by Mrs. Theodora Ngidi. A report with recommendations was compiled.

25. Most of the recommendations formed the basis of the drafting of the Interim Minibus Taxi Act, no 4 of 1998.

26. Let me briefly deal with the ongoing long distance conflict in Durban. This problem has been with us since the beginning of 1996.

27. A number of attempts have been made to resolve this but to no avail. We have involved various community leaders in trying to resolve this problem.

28. Every time we reach the verge of a breakthrough, violence will erupt.

29. In 1997 myself, Minister C.J. Mthethwa, Messrs. Mthiyane and Makhaye, members of the Provincial legislature together with SAPS and Metro Police brokered an agreement. Some days later attacks and counter-attacks started which scuttled the agreement.

30. The same happened in two other mediation attempts. The first involved myself and Amakhosi from the Maphumulo/Kranskop region.

31. The third attempt involved The Right Reverend Shembe of the Nazareth Church. Again a Peace agreement was brokered. However violence erupted even as the ink was drying.

32. In addition to this there have been many other attempts to resolve this problem. Some of these attempts involved the following structures:

: Commission of Inquiry under Mrs. T. Ngidi
: South African Police Service
: Durban City Police

33. The taxi industry in the province is well positioned to benefit immensely from the national recapitalisation programme which will involve the manufacture of 18 and 35 seater vehicles, a financial scheme incorporating both vehicle finance and insurance and other features which are still being developed in negotiations with the taxi industry.

34. Negotiations are also proceeding for the taxi industry to secure stakes in other transport sectors such as freight companies, the bus industry and in rail services.

35. With regard to the involvement of members of the SAPS, Metro Police and other government officials in the taxi industry, the following issues are important:

36. With regard to the relationships between certain taxi associations and taxi violence, a number of issues bear consideration. These are:

37. Against terrible odds , KwaZulu-Natal is emerging out of political violence of almost twenty years. We will not allow those gains to be reversed by a new form of violence from the taxi industry with victims remaining the same - impoverished black communities.

The response of the taxi industry to democratise itself is a very solid step towards peace. Even in the response and participation to this commission before this eminent judge is an extremely hopeful sign.

We must emerge from this era of impunity. It cannot be a matter of pride for law enforcement in this province that you stand a ninety percent chance of being prosecuted for speeding or going through a red robot than you have for murder in the context of ta xi violence. Peace must not be optional.

There is a fly in Brazil the June fly. It has got a life span of six hours. If it is born at eight in the morning by fourteen hours it will have reached old age. If it is born at twenty hours by two in the morning it will have reached old age. When both me et in the afterlife one would swear that there is no such thing as daylight and the other will swear that there is no such thing as night. Wisdom consists of seeing possibilities before they become obvious.

38. I wish to assure the Commission of our continued support, look forward to the Commission's findings and thank you all for the considerable efforts that you are making in dealing with this very complex and important issue.

I Thank You.