By NASI HAKO
Local taxi employees are worried about the level at which they are risking their lives to serve their community, while making less than a third of their normal daily takings.
“Usually taxi drivers make R1000 in a day, but they have to settle for R300,”* said a marshal at one of the Makhanda taxi ranks.
“The financials went south, heavily,” said Qaqambile Dikana, an administrative officer for the Grahamstown Taxi Association.
At level 3 of the national lockdown, the number of passengers allowed in a minibus taxi is 70% of the loading capacity. For a regular minibus taxi, that means that only 10 rather than the full load of 15 people are allowed in the vehicle at a time.
Chairperson of Uncedo Taxi Association, Monde Sandi, said this was one of the big issues being faced by the various taxi associations.
“We’re doing our work, but we aren’t seeing the fruits of our labour,”* he said.
The rank marshal said not only were owners and drivers losing a significant amount of their income due to the reduced number of passengers, but taxi conductors, also known as collectors, have been dropped from the mix so the vehicles can accommodate more passengers per trip.
“Taxi conductors are men with families who are just trying to build their homes,”* he said. “But the collectors are losing their jobs because the drivers have to work alone.”
Additionally, the South African government made alleged promises of negotiating for delayed payments and compensating taxi association employees for their losses. However, the employees of the association are singing a different song.
“There is some money that the government distributed. It was R3400 to R4000 per person, but not everyone has received it,”* started the rank marshal. “And if you get the money, then you don’t get paid by your employer.”*
“We aren’t making enough money to pay our [vehicle]instalments,” said Sandi. “The government said they negotiated with the banks to give us three months’ leeway, but the banks still want their money and are otherwise threatening to take the taxis,”* he added.
“If the government or the banks followed up on their promises, it would be fine, but it isn’t going the way they’re selling it to us on TV,”* he continued.
In the midst of these issues, taxi drivers have to ensure that their taxis are disinfected and that each of their passengers sanitises their hands before disembarking. However, taxi associations believe that the government did not contribute enough in order to ensure clean and safe taxis. Dikana said while the government had donated disinfectant, it was not nearly enough.
“We had to source [the sanitisers]ourselves, financially draining the association,” he said.
These issues coupled with the extended driving time added by the roadblocks between towns increased costs significantly for the Grahamstown Taxi Association.
“Those were the necessary evils of the lockdown. Your travelling time would be increased by the roadblocks and that was it. There was no time to complain or fret about such things,” Dikana explained.
In addition to these struggles, taxi drivers feel as though passengers are undermining both the drivers as well as the seriousness of the virus.
“We have a problem in Grahamstown to tell you the truth. Grahamstown residents don’t want to wear their masks,”* the rank marshal said, audibly frustrated. “When they get in the taxis their masks are on their chin. When we ask them about it, they say they’re eating.”*
With reference to school transport, both the Grahamstown taxi association and the Uncedo Taxi Association have stated that they have to wait to receive a contract from the local government containing information and social distancing guidelines for the drivers and students.
The employees of these taxi associations are hopeful that the government will follow through on their promises so that they can do their jobs safely and efficiently.
“This pandemic has hit us hard, we’re also not protected,”* said the rank marshal.
“Things feel out of place and we are trying to adjust on a daily basis. It’s difficult, but we don’t have time to whine about it – we get it done,” Dikana said.
*Translated from isiXhosa.