Is the taxi industry justified in flouting restrictions that hurt them?
As one would expect, when you push a person deep enough into a corner, at some point they may have no other option but to attack. Would it be right or wrong?
Picture for illustration. Taxis parked outside Bree taxi rank in Johannesburg, 22 June 2020, during a strike over government’s R1.135 billion relief fund. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
A question as old as the law itself: is it just to disobey an unjust law? On the face of it, the taxi industry’s rejection of a R1.135-billion injection into the relief fund, just for its own sector, seems rather surprising. One wouldn’t think that that amount is anything to scoff at, though the clever money seems to believe that when broken down, it comes to about R5,000 per taxi. R5,000 per vehicle is better than nothing, especially if you’re working with a fleet, but it’s hardly enough to even service a Quantum. Factor in that under regulations, taxi’s are…
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A question as old as the law itself: is it just to disobey an unjust law?
On the face of it, the taxi industry’s rejection of a R1.135-billion injection into the relief fund, just for its own sector, seems rather surprising. One wouldn’t think that that amount is anything to scoff at, though the clever money seems to believe that when broken down, it comes to about R5,000 per taxi.
R5,000 per vehicle is better than nothing, especially if you’re working with a fleet, but it’s hardly enough to even service a Quantum. Factor in that under regulations, taxi’s are allowed to operate at more than half capacity so the losses are not anywhere near as extensive they would have been had the sector remained totally shut down.
Add to that the margins. I find it difficult to believe that taxi operators function on razor-thin margins so taking a hit in the margin could still see one being profitable assuming the margins were wide enough to begin with.
Essentially, I’m of the view that the taxi industry is one of the least worse off in this lockdown when one factors in the arts, hospitality, tourism, etc. who have taken bigger knocks and been offered less support. One wonders what would have happened were the Minister of Razzmatazz still in charge of recreation as he once was.
But let’s assume that I’m wrong and that the taxi industry has legitimate reasons to be upset and lash out at the expense of the wellbeing of the country and the fight against the pandemic. How justified would that be?
Flouting laws is nothing new. The fight against apartheid required it. The fight for transformation required it. The fight to liberate oneself from lockdown limitations will no doubt require it, so when could one justifiably apply some anarchy?
The weigh up has pretty much always between the reason and the harm it inflicts, and the line is never clear. By way of example, taking up arms to fight racist laws may seem just only if the arms are pointed in particular directions. Fortunately, we’re not faced with something as drastic here, but there is a strong element of livelihood and how one frames the link between livelihood and life is important.
It’s actually so important that it’s the major foundational piece of all of today’s liberation movements from #MenAreTrash to #BlackLivesMatter. Like those movements, the taxi industry was quick to strike and their opponents, in this case, the government, were slow.
Further, the government has not exactly being forthcoming with the rationale of their operation and what it is based on. Realistically, they’re pretty much simply demanding of us that we abide. Added to that, the constant mixed messaging seems to delegitimise government regulations.
Whether it be your parent, school head, or lover, one tends to take their demands less seriously when the demands hurt, are incomprehensible and seem to be topsy turvy.
One could, therefore, understand why an industry would be against following regulations on the whole but the framing of the view from the perspective of the industry is deliberately warped to make it seem like a government vs industry dichotomy and it is not.
There is a third actor in this play. Millions of them in fact. They are the ones who make use of the taxi services, and it appears that they have been neglected.
Even if the industry can justify flouting the regulations on the basis of the reasons they were introduced, they will have a tough time justifying the harm they inflict.
It’s pretty safe to say now that filling a taxi full of people in the middle of winter is pretty high risk for Covid-19 transmissions based on what we know. Should enough people die, that alone would make the decision unjustifiable, but it isn’t just that. There’s also an element of cannibalising one’s own industry.
Should the industry be deemed to be unsafe, as the safety drops, so too will the people using it, which would mean that either the industry loses support or profits off the desperation of those yearning to eke out an income. Either way, it’s rather macabre.
The government is also silly in this play having seemingly pulled the capacity which they’d allow the industry to operate from the seventh planet from the sun and moving along while neglecting to take the industry into its confidence, cancelling meetings and seemingly dictating a way forward. I may even argue that 70% capacity is too high as you’ll inevitably have to sit within the two-metre social distance exclusion radius… an exclusion radius issued by the government themselves in 8 April publication titled “Social Distancing Explained”.
So the industry may feel like it is justified in forgoing the rules and perhaps they are but it does not preclude them from the responsibilities that are the endgame of the rules; the safety of their passengers. In this case, no matter how unjust the regulations may seem, flouting them is in no way justifiable when one considers all those involved and the long term effects.
At the end of this, it’s likely there will be money transferred, rules will be flouted and those at the top will come off looking like they negotiated a good deal, all the while those at the bottom have to somehow balance safety and health with livelihood in increasingly tense circumstances.
What was that African proverb about elephants and grass again?
Richard Anthony Chemaly, entertainment attorney, radio broadcaster and lecturer of communication ethics.
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