Taxi wars in South Africa
|People using taxi service each day||14 million|
|Officially registered minibus taxis||200,000|
|Average taxis per owner||7|
|Avg monthly kilometres driven by a taxi||8,000|
|Avg number of passengers transported monthly per vehicle||3,161|
|Avg time spent daily in a taxi by a passenger||65 min|
|Avg number of trips per passenger per day||2.3|
|Data as of 2006|
The term taxi war is usually used to refer to the turf wars fought between taxi associations and individual minibus taxi drivers in South Africa from the late 1980s onwards. These taxi wars are still raging to the present day.
The multi-billion Rand minibus taxi industry carries over 60% of South Africa's commuters. Generally speaking, these commuters are all of the lower economic class. Wealthy individuals drive their own cars for safety and convenience. The industry is almost entirely made up of 16-seater commuter Toyota HiAce buses, which are sometimes unsafe or not roadworthy. Minibus taxi drivers are well known for their disregard for the road rules and their proclivity for dangerously overloading their vehicles with passengers.
Due to an effectively unregulated market and the fierceness of competition for passengers and lucrative routes, taxi operators band together to form local and national associations. These associations soon exhibited mafia-like tactics, including the hiring of hit-men and all-out gang warfare. These associations also engaged in anti-competitive price fixing.
Prior to 1987, the taxi industry was highly regulated and controlled, with black taxi operators being refused permits. Sixteen-seater minibuses were illegal to operate as taxis. After 1987, the industry was rapidly deregulated, leading to an influx of new minibus taxi operators, keen to make money from the high demand for this service. Because the industry was largely unregulated and the official regulating bodies so corrupt, the industry quickly became criminal in nature.
The economic drivers for the wars were intertwined with political unrest around the time of the fall of apartheid in 1994. Commuters were often the target of political violence not necessarily related to the taxi industry itself. Often, the warring factions involved were from opposing political parties, such as the IFP and ANC. In the years leading up to the abolition of apartheid, the government is believed to have actively encouraged this violence so as to destabilise its political opposition. For example, in 1998, 13 police officers were charged with complicity in taxi violence.
Pre-1977 (state-owned monopoly)
The Motor Carrier Transportation Act of 1930 prohibited transportation of goods and passengers by road for profit without a permit from the Local Road Transportation Board (LRTB). The transport industry was essentially a state monopoly held by the South African Transport Service (SATS).
Taxi owners operating outside the jurisdiction of the LRTB were operating illegally. These taxi operators started banding together into local informal associations.
1977–1987 (impetus towards deregulation)
Along with growing political pressure, the Soweto Riots of 1976 prompted the then National Party government to form a commission of inquiry into the transport industry. In 1977, the Van Breda Commission of Inquiry recommended freer competition and less regulation in the industry. The commission realised that the transport industry was becoming highly politicised and that it was no longer in the government's best interests to participate in the transport market.
In 1979, the first national association of black taxi drivers was established: the South African Black Taxi Association (SABTA). In the years to come, rival organisations, such as the South African Long Distance Taxi Association (SALDTA), would be formed. This body, along with other political bodies at the time, started putting pressure on government to deregulate the industry. Impetus towards a free-market economy grew stronger in the late 1980s.
The White Paper on Transport Policy, tabled in January 1987, in conjunction with the Transport Deregulation Act of 1988 effectively deregulated the entire taxi industry overnight, making minibus taxis legal. This change gave birth to the taxi industry as it exists in its current form. The permit-issuing process was rife with corruption; permits were essentially given away to favoured applicants. For all intents and purposes, there was no control whatsoever.
In the absence of official controls, the now-growing taxi organisations started to flex their muscles, using their influence to make more money to intimidate the opposition. The authorities did little or nothing to stop the violence.
In contrast to expectations, the violence intensified after the fall of apartheid.
In 1995, the government established the National Taxi Task Team (NTTT) to arrive at a solution to the taxi violence. In 1996, the NTTT's first report recommended the immediate re-regulation of the taxi industry.
The government's attempts at re-regulation were actively resisted by the now extremely powerful "mother" organisations that controlled the taxi industry; this led to an escalation of violence between 1998 and 1999.
The government intended The National Land Transport Transition Act, Act No 22 of 2000 to help formalise and re-regulate the now out-of-control taxi industry. Along with new legislation, the government instituted a four-year re-capitalisation scheme in the same year. The intention of this scheme was to replace the 15-seater minibuses with 18- and 35-seater minibuses. There have been a number of delays in this process. Firstly, the government has been waiting for the taxi industry to form one cohesive association that can speak on behalf of taxi owners; secondly, there is a lot of disagreement from taxi owners as to the nature that the re-capitalisation scheme should take.
One major sticking point is the possibility of job losses caused by the uptake of the larger buses. The government attempted to do research into the extent of the prospective job losses in 2000, but the research team was threatened, and research was abandoned.
In 2004, the minister of transport released a revised recapitalisation timeline, which was scheduled to start in 2005 and end seven years later. At the time of writing, the TRP had started, although plagued by delays.
According to the Transport Department, 1,400 old and unsafe taxis have been scrapped, with 80% of the taxi fleet expected to be recapitalised by the 2009/10 financial year. The recapitalisation continues to fuel conflicts within and between taxi associations, as well as between taxi associations and government agencies.
|Number of deaths||Number of injuries|
- Boudreaux, Karol, "Taxing Alternatives: Poverty Alleviation and the South African Taxi/Minibus Industry" (PDF), Mercatus Policy Series, 3
- Sekhonyane, Makubetse; Dugard, Jackie (December 2004), "A VIOLENT LEGACY: The taxi industry and government at loggerheads" (PDF), Sa Crime Quarterly, 10: 13–18
- Wines, Michael (17 September 2006). "South Africa's taxi wars taking toll". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 7 April 2007.
- Hansen, Thomas, Boys 'n' wheels. Music, race and gender in the taxi industry in Durban (PDF)
- Dugard, Jackie (May 2001), "From Low Intensity War to Mafia War: Taxi violence in South Africa (1987–2000)", Violence and Transition Series, 4
- "Shooting at Benoni taxi rank claims life", Business Day, 3 July 1999, archived from the original on 29 September 2007
- The South African Taxi Industry
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (PDF), 3, 1998, archived from the original (PDF) on 5 October 2006
- "AFTER three years of bickering and false starts, the taxi industry is on the brink of forming an all-inclusive national council. Once it is formed, government is ready to give the body statutory self-regulating powers", Business Day, 15 June 1998, archived from the original on 29 September 2007
- Organising in the taxi industry: The South African experience (PDF), 2003, archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2006
- An Overview of the National Land Transport Transition (Act 22 of 2000)
- Taxi Recapitalisation Project
- Taxi recapitalisation gets into gear – SouthAfrica.info
- Taxi recapitalisation programme, South Africa
- Bähre, Erik (2014). "A Trickle-Up Economy: Mutuality, Freedom and Violence in Cape Town's Taxi Associations" (PDF). Africa. 84 (4): 576–594.