Millions owed to scholar transport providers in Eastern Cape

Total shutdown avoided after transport department promises to pay by 15 May, but disruptions reported in some areas

By Thamsanqa Mbovane and Johnnie Isaac

2 May 2024

Taxi operators called off a shutdown planned for the Eastern Cape, but there were some disruptions on Thursday morning. Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane

A planned shutdown of transport in the Eastern Cape was called off by the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) and morning routines appeared to proceed normally in Gqeberha and Kariega on Thursday. However, there were reports of severe disruptions in the Buffalo City Metro, including Qonce.

The shutdown was threatened because the provincial transport department owes millions in outstanding payments to scholar transport providers, some of it dating back to January.

The shutdown was officially called off by taxi associations on Wednesday night after the department promised to pay R5.9-million on 8 May, based on invoices that it has verified. The department said another payment run will be done on 15 May.

However, provincial transport spokesperson Unathi Binqose said there were disruptions “making it nearly impossible for people, goods and services to move around” on Thursday in the Buffalo City Metro, “the epicentre” of the protest, with blockades on some of the major routes leading to central East London and Qonce.

Binqose pointed out that the taxi shutdown had come at a time when “many elderly and frail citizens are supposed to be getting their social grants”.

In Buffalo City, parents took to social media to vent their frustration as even privately paid scholar transport operators were forced to stop services.

Binqose said “some degree of responsibility for the delay” rested with operators who had refused to sign contracts in January and February, and to “challenges relating to SARS among some operators”.

Blockades on the N2 and other access roads around the city have been cleared, but taxi operators have been patrolling to stop any taxis picking up passengers.

A group of taxi drivers were seated in a vehicle near Fort Jackson industrial area. One, who did not want to be named, told GroundUp: “We have been patient for far too long. Banks and traffic officers don’t exercise the same patience if you have not paid or renewed your disk.”

Provincial SANTACO chairperson Bishop Yolelo said the taxi council “has heard through rotating social media audio clips that some public transport operators intend to stop everyone from accessing basic services on the day”.

Yolelo acknowledged the “challenges surrounding overall government regulation and support of our industry” but said more “cordial avenues” need to be pursued.

The Uitenhage and District Taxi Association, a SANTACO affiliate, also confirmed it was against the shutdown. Spokesperson Lubabalo Vesele said on Thursday morning it was “business as usual” in Sarah Baartman, Koega, Sunday River Valley and Nelson Mandela Bay municipalities.

Taxis at Fort Jackson Industrial Area in East London refused to take passengers on Thursday.