SOUTH AFRICA

Cape Town taxis protest for ‘right to break law’

The taxis of Cape Town went on strike Monday after they said that City Hall was clamping down too harshly on traffic infractions. The strikes quickly descended into violence: one man died and many local buses were burned. Our Observer explains why the taxis are so angry and so powerful.

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The buses were torched during violent taxi protests in a township in Cape Town (photo from Facebook page of City of Cape Town Councillor Xolile Gwangxu.)

The taxis of Cape Town went on strike Monday after they said that City Hall was clamping down too harshly on traffic infractions. The strikes quickly descended into violence: one man died and many local buses were burned. Our Observer explains why the taxis are so angry… and so powerful.

When the drivers of local taxi mini buses went on strike in Nyanga, one of Cape Town’s townships, locals headed to the bus depot in order to try and get to work and school on time.

Angry taxi drivers determined to keep the protest going quickly turned violent against the buses. Golden Arrow bus company said 11 of its bus drivers were assaulted and a dozen of its vehicles were torched. Two MyCiti buses (run by the city of Cape Town) were also damaged.

While the violence was initially suspected to be solely the fault of the striking taxi drivers, the local associations and the city have distanced the industry from the attacks and raised other theories about the origins of the violence, citing potential participation of political groups and protestors protesting against lack of services in the townships.

The shell of buses burned during violent taxi protests in a township in Cape Town (photo from Facebook page of City of Cape Town Councillor Xolile Gwangxu.)

A dozen Golden Arrow buses were torched by protestors (photo from Facebook page of City of Cape Town Councillor Xolile Gwangxu.)

'It seems crazy to protest to break the law but the taxi drivers know what power they hold’

Bulelani Cornelius Mfaco lives in Khayelitsha, a township about 15 kilometres from Nyanga. He takes the bus every day from his home to the University of the Western Cape. He is in his third year, studying politics and public administration.

It’s well known that the taxis drive crazily in Cape Town. Other drivers have to manoeuvre around them and they like to drive across the yellow lines. I can understand why the City Council decided to crack down.

Honestly, it doesn’t make sense for the taxis to protest—they are protesting for the ability to break the law. It seems crazy but the taxi drivers know what power they hold because people are dependent on them to go to school and work. The entire road was closed down yesterday and hundreds of thousands of people were stranded. Many people had to walk home from work and were very vulnerable to muggings as Nyanga has one of the worst crime rates in South Africa.

Workers clear the remains of burnt-out buses (photo from the Facebook page of Xolile Gwangxu.)

There was a heavy police presence during the strikes (photo from the Facebook page of Xolile Gwangxu.)

'These strikes disrupt our communities.'

We need an efficient system of public transportation. The City Council is starting a bus service called MyCiTi to some of the townships, which is another problem for the taxi drivers. They don’t want competition. Most drivers are poor and live in the townships themselves.

In my community, the City has worked out a partnership with the taxis and many drivers are being trained to drive the MyCiTi buses. They need to work out a similar deal in Nyanga because these strikes disrupt our communities.

Usually, it takes me 45 minutes to get to campus and, yesterday, it took me an hour and a half because the bus changed its route to avoid Nyanga. Right now, we students have a one-week holiday before the new term starts. I hope they can resolve it before then.

This transportation issue highlights the uncomfortable divides between the centre of Cape Town and the townships.

Cape Town’s ruling party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has made an effort to improve the townships since it took power eight years ago by starting housing projects and transportation initiatives like MyCiTi.

But the DA’s relationship remains complicated with the townships, where many people are staunch supporters of the African National Congress (ANC). Political tensions are also tinged with apartheid-era racial scars: the DA has a larger white contingency (like the centre of Cape Town) while the ANC is traditionally black (like the townships).

Some of these painful tensions resurfaced as politicians reacted to the taxi strikes. Mayor Patricia De Lille blamed the ANC and other groups for provoking the protests, saying the strikes were “designed to make the city ungovernable” [Editor’s note: The ANC Youth League did vow to make the city “ungovernable” for the DA in 2012 but then retracted their statement. Still, our Cape Town Observers reported that there are many rumours that ANC supporters are still trying to stir things up before local elections in 2016 and that they have been involved in several service protests, one of which fell on the same day as the taxi strike.] Parties in opposition to the DA denied involvement.

DA leader Helen Zille also caused a small Twitter storm when she seemed to blame township residents for the taxi strike.

DA leader Helen Zille tweeted this message, angering those who thought she was blaming township residents for the violent strikes led by taxi drivers.

Many people took to Twitter to respond to Zille's tweet about how Nyanga residents didn't deserve public services after the taxi strike.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor De Lille met with representatives of the affected bus companies, concerned taxi drivers and the South African Police on Tuesday afternoon. They condemned the violent protests and agreed to establish a new forum to serve as the platform where all taxi associations can debate and discuss their grievances in the future.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Brenna Daldorph (@brennad87).