Speech by Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP at the Topica Biannual Conference Durban Exhibition Centre, Durban (3 September 2007)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to address you. Topica is one of the biggest affiliates of the National Taxi Alliance and therefore your Biannual Conference is significant for the industry as a whole.

As you take stock of the events of the past two years and chart your course for the future there are many important matters that should be considered.

Indeed the industry has itself identified critical issues threatening its very existence, such as a poor public image, poor customer care, suspect safety record and instances of taxi-related violence.

It is only right that you as stakeholders acknowledge these challenges yourself, so that you can take corrective steps informed by your own intimate knowledge of the industry. Failure to address these challenges opens the door for government departments with little or no understanding of the industry to impose so-called 'solutions' that do not address the challenges and harm the livelihoods of taxi owners and operators.

In every sector of the economy stakeholders have learnt that the most effective way of promoting the health of their industry is to initiate self-governance and stringently regulate themselves. Failure to act as a united front exposes any industry to excessive government interference.

Therefore, it is time for the industry to ask itself to what extent it has succeeded in resolving its own internal conflicts, or to discipline those of its members who neglect customer care and road safety. Has the industry actively sought to create a national overarching dispute resolution mechanism, or indeed a channel through which members of the public and industry customers can lay complaints? These are the types of methods that other industries have applied to improve their image and performance, as well as proactively address issues to avert excessive government interference.

To expect government to completely leave the industry alone is misplaced, since the taxi industry affects the daily lives of millions of South Africans and is a major component of the national economy. After all, this industry is the biggest single transporter of the economic workforce.

As you well know, government interference came several years ago in the form of the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme. Initially many of us believed that initiative would provide a vital boost to the most important part of the national transport system. Indeed, after years of discrimination and marginalisation under Apartheid, there was a general feeling of relief that the new democratic dispensation would finally invest in the industry that filled the public transport void so effectively.

But as you know, these early hopes for the Taxi Recap were dashed by a series of blunders on the part of Government. No consultation took place, and to this day consultation and communication aren't hallmarks of the process. Unilateral decisions were taken and processes instituted that were unrealistic and counter-productive. When Government encountered legitimate resistance it responded with threats and intimidation. In many provinces transport departments began a sustained campaign of unjustified and vindictive targeting of the taxi industry. In some places any excuse would do to impound vehicles or deny operating permits.

To add insult to injury the Government set a series of deadlines that were entirely out of touch with reality. On the one hand Government was cracking the whip over the industry for not complying fast enough, but on the other it was missing all its own deadlines. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that Government would not let a weekly opportunity pass without blanket-defamations such as 'coffins on wheels' etc.

The years have come and gone, and the original deadlines are long-forgotten. The process is now well and truly under way, but it is still virtually impossible to get reliable and timeous progress reports on the status of the Taxi Recap.

Indeed, major outstanding issues still remain. The scrapping fee that Government is offering is insufficient and cannot be said to realistically bridge the gap between the earning potential of the vehicle being scrapped and the exorbitant cost of the new government-imposed vehicle. The industry remains caught between a rock and hard place - even if an owner cannot afford the new vehicle on the scrapping fee being offered, he/she cannot legally operate the old vehicle.

Another unresolved matter is the various so-called BEE deals and tenders that have been struck by Government - with taxpayer money - in connection with the Taxi Recap. It is the height of hypocrisy to speak of BEE to an industry that is black-owned and operated for decades now, and to parachute people in from outside the industry who now land huge and lucrative BEE deals in aspects of the Taxi Recap. The very real danger exists that corruption will rear its ugly head like it has done in the many other instances where government issued tenders to overnight millionaires with no knowledge of the industry. Too many tenders have been awarded to people whose only qualification has been political connections; this result in lack of delivery, wastage of taxpayer money and negative consequences for the affected industry. The taxi industry must guard against this danger and demand not only consultation but inclusion in tenders - as the rightful participants in this industry.

Throughout the world the linkage between transport and HIV/AIDS has been proven. It is therefore only correct that the taxi industry in South Africa has also taken note of the pandemic and resolved to participate in awareness, prevention and management of HIV/AIDS. A staggering number of South Africans have been exposed to this disease; it is the duty of every South African to spread the message that it can be prevented and it can be treated. The taxi industry with its daily contact with millions of South Africans is uniquely placed to assist in this vital awareness campaign.

I wish you well during your deliberations over the course of this two-day conference and hope that you will emerge with new purpose and enthusiasm to take your industry to new heights.

I thank you.

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