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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT
7 November 2006
COMMISSION ON TAXI VIOLENCE IN THE WESTERN CAPE: FINDINGS
Chairperson: Mr JP Cronin (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Findings of the Commission on Taxi Violence in the Western Cape
The Chairperson of the Commission on Taxi Violence in the Western Cape reported on the hearings held hearings in the Western Cape. It found that there were cultures of fear, silence and entitlement in the industry. Exorbitant fees were charged for joining the main Associations, and these Associations had poor accounting systems. There were suspected links to crime, including the use of hit squads, drug trafficking and other crimes, but these could not be proven. There was lack of law enforcement and a dereliction of duty by the City of Cape Town. Fees were charged for entry to drivers at taxi ranks, and to hawkers, although no books were kept. Huge revenue was generated. The licensing board was dysfunctional. There was lack of confidence in the taxi council. Two unresolved conflicts contributed to the disquiet and would need to be addressed.
The Commission had recommended that a semi-permanent dispute resolution body should be established, and early warnings put in place. The efficiency and effectiveness of the licensing board needed to be investigated. Traffic authorities could not be permitted to turn a blind idea to activities of the taxi associations on any roads. A multi-disciplinary investigation team, including the police, the revenue services, the National Prosecuting Authority and National Intelligence Agency must be set up to investigate the activities of the warlords. Law enforcement agencies should establish a joint task team to deal with violations of the law and share intelligence. The report had been completed on 31 August and the records had been given to the Premier of the Western Cape and could not yet be published, although some might be at a later stage. The body of evidence was to be archived, and eventually made available to the public.
Certain issues raised in the report had been addressed, including an overhaul of the provincial operating licence board had been overhauled, revision of the staff structure, and control measures at taxi ranks. The 1996 agreement between two taxi associations needed to be revised as new routes had been opened up. A dispute resolution unit had been operating since September 2006. A joint forum was meeting weekly. Five persons who had given evidence to the Commission had been murdered this year.
Members raised questions on collective discussions, the representativity of views, the roles of the police and security forces, the position of hawkers at the ranks, sedan taxis, the problems of multiple organisations, the excessive fees charged for membership of the associations, and the need to look further at the whole process. It was noted that half of the R 7.7 billion from the recapitalisation budget would be allocated to law enforcement. Members highlighted the need for integrated transport plans, investigation and setting of drivers’ wages, and the need for communications between the mother body and the so-called provincial representatives. The Committee felt the taxi council should advocate a diversified approach, and that cities and provinces must educate operators in the broader opportunities available to them, and must also adopt a more integrated planning approach, including commuters, business and public authorities. The problems in the West Coast, and the failure of the “be legal” campaign in 2001 were highlighted.
Briefing by Adv D Ntsebeza on the findings of the Commission on Taxi Violence
Adv Dumisa Ntsebeza, Chairperson of the committee investigating mini-bus taxi violence in the Western Cape, reported that the three major taxi associations were the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA), the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations (CODETA) and the Peninsula Taxi Association (PTA). Public hearings had been held, but some submissions were held in private due to the sensitive nature of the evidence presented. It had emerged that there was a culture of fear and of silence.
There was also a culture of entitlement. Operators were under the impression that permits would be granted on application. They had to pay fees of up to R 60 000 to join the associations, which were felt to be exorbitant. This put pressure to deliver on to the provincial licensing board. The Commission found that non-existing applicants had apparently submitted some applications. There was over-trading on the various routes of up to 70%.
Adv Ntsebeza commented that there was a remarkable lack of law enforcement, and he detected a marked dereliction of duty by the City of Cape Town. Another problem was the fee charged to hawkers operating at taxi ranks. There was no record of receipts for these fees, nor for the entrance fees charged to taxi drivers at some ranks. Some accounting had taken place, but no evidence was presented to the Commission nor did any party present their books for scrutiny. It was a fact that the associations had accumulated war chests, and levies were imposed on operators to fund these. Enormous revenue was being generated, and a body like the Bellville Taxi Association collected approximately R 700 000 each week.
Adv Ntsebeza said that it was clear how the warlords could sustain instability, as there was a lack of law enforcement. The Commission felt that both the South African Police Service (SAPS) and South African Revenue Service (SARS) should be conducting an investigation. He reminded the meeting that the notorious Al Capone had only been brought to book on charges of tax evasion despite being involved in a host of other crimes. He was sure that neither the individuals nor the organisations were paying tax, and their accounts should be subject to scrutiny.
Adv Ntsebeza said that the operating licensing board was dysfunctional. The preliminary findings of the Commission revealed that a probe was necessary into the provincial Department of Transport. A forensic audit needed to be done by an independent company into the operations of the licensing board.
He said that there was a disturbing prevalence to the use of hit squads. CATA and CODETA in particular were implicated in this. The PTA operated mainly in the coloured areas, and they were linked to drugs and prostitution. However, there was no evidence of their involvement with hit squads at the time.
The Commission had made several recommendations. Firstly, a semi-permanent dispute resolution body should be established. Conflict should not lead to violence, and an early warning should be picked up and dealt with before it boiled over.
Secondly, the government should review the activities of the provincial operating license board. Its efficiency and effectiveness should be probed. The Commission had spent a day observing the board, and were not impressed as nothing seemed to be working. The system was open to abuse. The Chairman had no relationship with the board itself, even though the legislation was clear as to who should be doing specific functions.
Thirdly, the government should eradicate the practice of traffic authorities turning a blind idea to activities of CATA and CODETA. These bodies charged a levy for movement to and from the rural areas. They patrolled the N1 and N2 with impunity to enforce their policies, often with tragic consequences. There had been one episode where an operator of one association had been waylaid by another near Laingsburg.
The fourth recommendation was that a multi-disciplinary investigation team should be established. This would include SAPS, SARS, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who should investigate the activities of the warlords. These activities included killings and other crime. There was a need to prosecute all crimes, from murder through to tax evasion.
Adv Ntsebeza said the fifth recommendation was that law enforcement agencies should establish a joint task team to deal with violations of the law. This should act as an early warning system. Intelligence should be shared. Agencies should foster a collaborative spirit rather than act in a compartmentalized way. Agents should deal with any violation of the law that occurred in their presence.
He continued that many tapes and all other records would be made available to the Premier of the Western Cape. Some of these could not be made public until the Premier had reviewed them. Some of the information could then be released, if not prejudicial to people involved. The report could then be made public. It had been completed on 31 August 2006.
A final recommendation was that the body of evidence should be archived, and eventually made available to the public.
Dr Ntsebeza said that the taxi recapitalisation project had not featured in the Commission’s study. This had come into play at too late a stage for the matter to be included in the debate.
A disturbing finding was the attitude towards the taxi council. Government saw this body as the main structure, but the taxi associations had little confidence in it as they felt it was unrepresentative. It was made up mainly of coloured people and was not seen to represent the African dominated CATA and CODETA organisations. The composition of the council was legitimate at face level, as it represented all regions, even far-flung areas such as Beaufort West. However, CATA and CODETA felt that the significant sizes of their fleets and operations entitled them to greater representation. There was a fear that these operators might at worst sabotage the functions of the council or at least hamper its operations by not co-operating.
Adv Ntsebeza said that there were still two unresolved incidents. The first was an event that had been held in a stadium. People had been lured to the stadium and many were shot dead. It was CATA’s view that this incident had occurred on party political lines. Their feeling was that the ambush had been organised by movements aligned to CODETA as well as elements of the ANC and South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO). It was even felt that some people in provincial government were associated with this event. No charges had been laid.
The other incident had been in Laingsburg, and was thought to have been a revenge attack for the previous one. This had never been resolved. There was a desire to create a forum to air the organisations’ views in an atmosphere similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unresolved issues must be addressed, and should not lead to violence. His sense was that mutual distrust would continue until the issue had been resolved.
Mr Irvin Kinnes, a criminologist who had served as a member of the Commission, said that Adv Ntsebeza had captured everything. Since the report had been drafted, the provincial operating licence board had been overhauled. Based on the recommendations, the MEC had appointed a completely new board. The staff structure had been reviewed by an independent company, which was still handling the process. Most of the posts in the revised structure had now been advertised.
He said that control measures were being introduced at taxi ranks. At Mitchell’s Plain, the Cape Town station and possibly the Bellville ranks boom gates had been installed. Only registered members of organisations had access tokens.
In 1996 an agreement had been reached between CATA and CODETA, which was now being looked at by the MEC and provincial management. In an out of court settlement, routes had been delimited for the rival associations. Basically CATA had been given the areas east and north of the city centre, while CODETA had been given the routes in Khayelitsha and south of the R300 freeway. However, the creation of new communities and new shopping malls gave rise to the need for new routes. There was no government intervention, and all parties referred to the 1996 agreement.
Mr Kinnes said that a dispute resolution unit had been set up, which enjoyed the services of 21 mediators. This had been in operation since September 2006. The Cape Town and Western Cape governments were both represented. Good co-operation was being achieved. A joint forum now met every Friday under the name of the SAPS Priority Committee. The SAPS, Cape Town Metropolitan Police, Department of Transport, NPA and other organisations were represented. However, he could not answer for the progress in the criminal investigations. He said that five persons who had given evidence to the Commission had been murdered this year.
Mr S Farrow (DA) asked if all the problems stemmed from the constitution of the taxi council. He asked if there had been any collective discussions.
Adv Ntsebeza said there had been plenary sessions at which all stakeholders had been involved. The terms of the hearings had been discussed. He was amazed that no political parties had been involved at any stage. It had been explained that there would be room for debate. Parties involved generally understood the Commission’s mandate. It had been made known that there would be both open and closed testimony. Where accusations were made in closed sessions, those accused were given the right of reply. The process was all-inclusive. The community had identified stakeholders.
All elements of the passenger transport system were invited, including the sedan taxis operating in the townships. These served as feeders for the minibus taxis. He thought these were not licensed. The Golden Arrow bus company had also been invited. They had been the targets of violence at the height of the conflict. Adv Ntsebeza had interviewed a prisoner who had been found guilty of three murders connected to the taxi violence, but even he could not say who had ordered the attacks on the buses. There were suspicions, but no proven links. Legal agencies, and even the NIA, should know about what was going on if they were doing their job correctly.
Mr Kinnes added that the Council had been re-elected and now included CATA and CODETA.
Mr Farrow asked about the role of the security forces. He asked if there was any clear evidence of police harassing the taxi drivers. Security forces had also been accused of corruption.
Adv Ntsebeza replied that the taxi operators were of the view that they were being harassed, especially when taxis were impounded. Legislation had not been fully implemented. He had observed a similar situation in Soshanguve during 1999. There should be clarity when vehicles were impounded. He thought that operators should be aware of these provisions. The law enforcement agencies were suffering from capacity constraints. One of the questions raised had been the bus lane on the N2 leading into Cape Town. This was not being observed. He had even seen a judge using this lane illegally. He wondered if the citizens were not sometimes provoking taxi drivers to the actions they took. He said that SAPS could not deny that there was corruption, but no individuals had been implicated. The quality of evidence made it difficult to determine the credibility. It was clear that corruption was a problem.
Mr O Mogale (ANC) asked about hawkers. He also asked if the R 60 000 was a standard amount. If not, he asked why it had not been recommended. He asked if the report was available to the public, and if the national Department of Transport (DoT) was aware of this exercise. He saw that there was a need for a similar commission in other provinces.
Mr Kinnes said that attempts had been made to deal with hawkers at the Cape Town station rank. Taxi owners in fact owned some of the stalls. The situation was being reviewed. The figure of R 60 000 was a joining fee demanded by the associations. The licence fee payable to the province was in fact less than R200. The report had been sent to the Western Cape government. It should be made public, but was not sure how it could be accessed. The national Department was made aware of the Commission. In fact, the Deputy Director-General had appeared in front of the Commission after receiving a subpoena. However, he did not think that the Department had received a copy of the report.
The Chairperson observed that it was not the Commission’s responsibility to see that the report was forwarded to national government. It was more like a window into broader operations that gave a good sense of what was happening. The DoT had been invited, and in fact was represented by Mr Deon Viljoen, Deputy Director: Parliamentary Services, Ministry of Transport. Parliament needed to move the information further along.
Mr M Moss (ANC) said there was a clear level of lawlessness. It would be difficult to find a solution. The sedan taxis were generally in a non-roadworthy condition. Often neither the driver nor the car had valid licences. Passengers would thus not be able to make insurance claims if involved in an accident. However, the community accepted them as legal and used their services. It was therefore no wonder that there was a failure to prosecute killers if the law was seen as irrelevant. It was difficult to see who was behind the killings. He wondered if the drug lords and gangsters were involved. He also said that if there was more than one taxi association in an area, this was bound to contribute to the violence. People were free to form associations, but having multiple organisations contributed to clashes.
Mr Kinnes said that it was not so difficult to find solutions. Government did have a role to play, but so did the community, which could not be left out of any solution. Gangs were a problem, but current strategies were paying off. Some prominent arrests had been made and the community was now more willing to speak out about criminal activities. The taxi violence situation should be seen in the same way. There was a new vigour amongst government agencies to show taxi drivers and owners the benefits of complying with the law. Smaller companies were being started. He had seen people who now wanted to be involved in business. There must be a view that problems had to be solved. There was a link with drugs and gangsterism. Taxis were used to transport drugs. Some people used the industry for money laundering. This also contributed to conflict.
Ms N Khunou (ANC) said that it was important for the Committee to get the report. She pointed out that on the one hand the operators complained about fines, but yet could afford R 60 000 for their membership of the associations. She asked what the national structure was like. She asked what the NPA was doing about the situation, and if there was any progress.
The Chairperson said that perhaps this was a question for the NPA to answer. He observed that the taxi recapitalisation program offered owners R 50 000, but the membership alone of an association would cost them R 60 000. A learning process was needed to ensure transformation in the law enforcement agencies. This was not the only industry with damaged foundations. For example, the mining houses had also been established in conflict situations. It was necessary to create a viable business space. The community was unhappy with both the violence and the conditions under which people were transported. Removing the taxis from the roads was not the solution.
The Chairperson said that R 7.7 billion had been unpacked from the recapitalisation budget. It appeared that more than half of this would be allocated to law enforcement. It was a pity that more would not be translated into public transport. The establishment of green lines would create a bit of breathing space. He noted that operating boards were dysfunctional everywhere in the country.
He said that all regions should have Integrated Transport Plans (ITP). The law said that the provincial licensing boards would award licences in terms of the local ITP that was linked to the Integrated Development Plan. It seemed that the transport industry was unaware of the ITP process. It seemed that there were now diverse interests, and he was very encouraged to hear of the independent operators. Where drivers’ wages were a problem, these should be set in accordance with the minimum wage prescribed for that sector.
Mr Kinnes replied that the conflict in Cape Town resulted from drivers being exploited by owners, and the drivers then took out their frustrations on the public. This had been the case with the recent drivers’ strike where the N2 had been blocked. The eventual conflict would be between drivers and owners. When that situation was reached, their relations would have to be regulated by current labour laws.
The Chairperson said that there had been no proper research into the method of payment for drivers. It was also unknown how many operators were both owners and drivers. He knew of one major operator who apparently owned 80 midi-buses that operated between Johannesburg and Pretoria. These were new vehicles. This illustrated the huge stratification in the industry. Payment of drivers was normally based on the performance of drivers.
Mr Kinnes said this was generally correct. Targets were set for drivers, which varied according the route. The drivers could pocket any income achieved over the target.
The Chairperson said this was a sure recipe for the aggressive driving normally associated with taxi drivers. The core issue was the method of payment rather than the type of vehicle used.
Mr Kinnes replied that one community had supported the drivers during the hearings. No community group had spoken about safety issues, whether the standard of driving or the roadworthiness of the vehicles.
Mr Farrow said that there were many golden threads in the report. He noted that there seemed to be a democratic programme, but there had been a communications breakdown between the mother body and the so-called provincial representatives. They said the system was working, but this was clearly not the case. If the communications gap did exist, he asked how big it was. The point of view of law enforcement agencies, particularly in the Western Cape, was that there was political interference. The law enforcement agencies’ hands were tied. He asked if there was any evidence to support this viewpoint. The size of the cake was limited, and all operators were fighting for their slice. The richer operators were able to take the cream off the top. He asked if the associations were territorially based, and if there was a willingness to share business.
Adv Ntsebeza found this an interesting question. He had a sense of the situation more from his observations than from the evidence presented. The CODETA and CATA leadership were able to communicate at some level. There did not seem to be an agreement on areas of operation. The areas were already clearly defined. He had made private visits to Mr Jezile of CODETA and Mr Maseti of CATA. He told them they could not operate in this way forever. They would have to make their members understand that not all operators who could afford membership could actually operate taxis. There were other opportunities such as ownership of petrol stations, and members should be encouraged to pursue such opportunities rather than operating taxis. Greed was a major factor. Structures were unaccountable and in many cases enforced by hit squads. He believed that some operators were looking at getting into other related businesses. There were many other aspects of the transport industry to which they could belong and make a good living.
The Chairperson said that the taxi council should advocate this diversified approach. Cities and provinces also had responsibilities to educate operators in the broader opportunities available to them. The Golden Arrow bus company was running some routes using subsidiary companies, and were co-operating with the taxi associations. It was policy to have an integrated transport approach. However, all systems were uni-modal at present. Revenue should be generated across the various systems. There should be an integrated ticketing system. However, this could not all be done at once. The recapitalisation process was scattered. The 2010 World Cup would provide a wealth of opportunities. Reserved lanes for buses needed to work as part of a system.
Adv Ntsebeza observed that bus lanes worked well overseas.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had visited Bogota in Colombia. Warlords, all connected with the drug trade, had controlled the bus system. Five different families were involved, and controlled the entire fleet of 20-seater buses. Between them the families owned the licensing system. They made money through over-trading of routes. This situation had been turned around considerably, and a wonderful bus system had been created. Two companies were placed in competition on a route. Old buses had to be scrapped, and an international partner had to be involved. Public regulation had been introduced, as well as a system to control individual vehicles and an integrated ticketing system. Inspectors were appointed and a fines system introduced. He said that Johannesburg would soon be announcing a new bus rapid transit system.
Adv Ntsebeza said that an ITP involved a city. The Commission had found that a part of the conflict lay in the development of new malls without a corresponding transport plan. It was assumed that all shoppers would make use of cars. However, no attention was paid to people in the townships gaining access. Many employees, who often had to work late hours, were reliant on public transport. Entrepreneurs had seen opportunities. People had therefore not been catered for at any mall. This had led to conflict in Bellville.
He said that minibus taxis were proving to be the fastest method of transport rather than buses. It had been foreseen that minibuses would be used as feeders for conventional bus and train routes. There was no integrated rank in Bellville. Business and public authorities had to work together in finding solutions.
Mr Kinnes said that since the report had been published, a steering committee had been formed. The MEC and his counterpart on the Cape Town Mayoral Committee served on this committee. He was fascinated to see how well they were working together. Bogota was an example of how the recapitalisation initiative could act to redesign of the system. Another problem was the lack of designated taxi stopping places. This should be part of the transport infrastructure.
The Chairperson said that small operators should be used as consultants. They could be well paid for this, and this might also be a way to get some insight into the books or at least to encourage proper bookkeeping. The commercial advantages would be seen, and projects should be driven at the local level.
Mr Moss said that his constituency was on the West Coast. There was one taxi association in existence there, however CODETA was now becoming involved and was charging a R30 000 membership fee. CODETA was spreading its influence into the rural areas. Their presence was bringing other evils.
Mr Kinnes replied that he was dealing with the West Coast and other rural areas. The mother bodies were expanding, and forcing local operators to join them. These mother bodies were predominantly black. This was breeding conflict in areas such as the West Coast, Grabouw and Stellenbosch. In Grabouw the local bus company had bought the licences. Local government had to regulate these activities. There were few passengers in these areas. Municipalities had to play a far bigger role. It was suspected that traffic policemen had interests in taxi operations in the rural areas.
Mr Mogale said that a ‘Be Legal’ campaign had been organised in 2001. Many of the sedan taxis had sported the sticker while remaining blissfully unlicensed.
Mr Kinnes said that more of these sedans were coming onto the road. Some were operated as a side business for the minibus taxi operators. He knew that not all of these sedans complied with regulations.
The Chairperson thanked the commissioners for their report and asked that it should be made available to members of the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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