Taxi Association Santaco is crying foul over the stringent requirements to qualify for government’s industry-wide R1.135 billion relief.
This has led to minibus-taxi operators embarking on a shutdown across Gauteng to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s COVID-19 relief measure for the industry.
The relief measure is expected to be overseen by the South African Revenue Services.
Santaco says the minibus-taxi industry has been in distress since the national lockdown came into effect over three months ago. According to the association, the R90 billion industry has lost around R25 million every day under lockdown. They say the R5000 offered by the government simply doesn’t cover their running or vehicle repayment costs.”
However, the government says it cannot afford to give the sector the R20 000 it’s demanding, given the country’s rising debt as a ratio to GDP. The association has also rejected suggestions by the government that the industry does not contribute towards the country’s taxes.
The taxi industry gives the manufacturing industry at least 7 billion a year in taxi sales buying at least 1000 a month VAT inclusive. This VAT % goes to government every year.
— SANTACO (@SA_Taxis) June 22, 2020
Santaco’s spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa says, “The taxi association has refuted allegations the minibus sector is non-compliant with tax laws. Experts say the sector has a fleet of over R230 000 taxis and only 60 percent of them have legal operating licences. They say government’s relief to taxi operators could be the first step to formalise the industry. But, commuters were the most affected.”
Santaco says the government’s plans to formalise the sector have been confusing because every new administration introduces new requirements. But others say formalising the industry could come with benefits, such as government subsidies which will benefit commuters.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said this is the right time to transform the taxi industry and has called on taxi owners to stop fighting the government and instead re-enter negotiations to fix the industry so that it can survive in a post-COVID world.
The Minister repeated that the money offered to taxi owners, which amounts to R5 000 each, is relief and not intended to compensate them for the losses they suffered during the lockdown.
Mbalula urged taxi owners not to look a gift horse in the mouth. The Minister was addressing taxi drivers in Tshwane who are participating in the countrywide strike over what they say is insufficient aid from government.
“The people today who have suffered it is us black people, who the majority of us are unemployed, who majority of us are using the very same taxis to go to work. Now, I need the taxi industry. They need me too. We can’t resolve our issues by fighting by closing the roads because Mbalula said government will give you R5 000. I can’t go beyond R5 000. We didn’t bring COVID-19 here. COVID-19 came from hell,” said Mbalula.
Minister Mbalula has reminded protesting taxi drivers that their industry is not the only one negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He said many companies like the retail giant Edcon face massive job losses after they were forced to retrench workers due to the lockdown.
Thousands of commuters in Gauteng were left scrambling for transport as taxis halted their services on Monday.
The shutdown by the taxi association, Santaco, is an attempt to send a strong message to government to agree to their demands of R20 000 per taxi as part of COVID-19 relief funding.
“I just started a new work now. If I don’t go to work – nothing I can do. I don’t have money. I can’t walk. It’s too far. We have been affected. We knocked off late. We are being relieved by (people) from Soweto. We are security guards. People from Soweto didn’t get transport. I was offered a lift by my colleagues. I’m from Randburg. I’m also affected. I was supposed to go to work in Rosebank, and there’s nothing I can do. I don’t know what to do. I’m going back home because there are no taxis.”
— SANTACO (@SA_Taxis) June 7, 2020