It’s taxis 1, government 0 as Mbalula backtracks again

Taxi owners have forced government to backtrack on strict regulations to enforce social distancing, but experts agree it is a major setback in the country’s war against the coronavirus.

The taxi industry may have won the battle – in forcing Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to backtrack on strict regulations to enforce social distancing in taxis …but the government and the country may have suffered a major setback in the war against the coronavirus.

Mbalula originally introduced regulations which stipulated taxis operate at half of their capacity, to allow distance between passengers. When taxi organisations across the country threatened a strike, because they were losing money, Mbalula backed down and relaxed the capacity restriction to 70% from 50%.

Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokesperson for trade union Numsa, expressed grave concern over Mabula’s move, saying “social distancing is what is necessary in order to keep safe from infections. It is even more deeply concerning that government is not doing enough to protect the poor and working class from this disease.”

Hlubi-Majola pointed out that social distancing, as a concept, was a privilege that most working-class people did not enjoy.

“If you are middle-class or you are a working professional, chances are you will simply hop into your car to drive to work, but that is not the reality of most South Africans who are poor and working class,” she argued. “For workers who earn equal or less than the national minimum wage of R20 per hour, they are forced to only use taxis.”

Yesterday, rainy early morning conditions in Soweto did not prevent the streets from coming alive with activity, traffic and pedestrians as people made their way to work, or sought essential services.

A marshal at the central rank across from Chris Baragwananth Hospital stood amid dozens of minibus taxis filled to various degrees of capacity, but largely on the side of half-full.

“We are still keeping to the original rule because we are waiting for the bosses and government to tell us the way forward,” he said.

In some taxi ranks around Soweto, masks and gloves were a dime a dozen on the faces and hands of commuters and shoppers, but there were many taxis filled with commuters where only some had protective gear.

Justice Project South Africa founder Howard Dembovsky said South Africa faced unique challenges in the restricting movement and social distancing.

“We have to face the reality that the majority of our people use public transport and so we need to be realistic in our approach,” said Dembovsky.

“The thing that fazes me now is we are already beginning to see social media posts showing people packed into minibus taxis with a check mask on and a person riding a bicycle showing that its a R5,000 fine, and it does completely defy logic when you consider that social distancing is the best practice to combat the virus.”

Dembovsky added that those who were not forced to live in small houses and shacks and to commute in minibus taxis, had the privilege of practising social distancing, while others may not even be able to access water and sanitation without leaving their homes, standing in queues and interacting with other people.

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