South Africa

Cape Town taxi strike turns violent, forcing businesses to close

Striking minibus taxi drivers are wreaking havoc in Cape Town, South Africa’s second-largest city and main tourist hub, blocking off roads and preventing thousands of people from getting to work.

The taxi drivers began demonstrating last week against the city’s decision to impound vehicles that weren’t roadworthy or whose owners hadn’t paid their fines.

Talks aimed at resolving the impasse failed over the weekend, and the South African National Taxi Council said the protest will continue until 9 August.

The main approach road to the Cape Town International Airport, the country’s second-biggest, and one of the main highways leading into the city was sealed off for several hours on Monday morning before being reopened.

Woolworths, Clicks, and other retailers have shut outlets or closed early because their workers were unable to travel, while parliament cancelled some meetings. A local law enforcement officer was killed last week, a murder city officials said was related to the strike.

“As a result of the strike, residents have been unable to get home to their families or to work, school, shops, clinics and other critical sites,” Alan Winde, the premier of the Western Cape Province, which includes Cape Town, said in a statement on Monday.

“Many government services, including health and social development, are having to close facilities and are unable to provide desperately needed services to our communities. Our schooling system is also being affected. This is not acceptable.”

Four buses, four privately owned cars and two trucks were set alight, a number of vehicles had been stoned, and a shooting had been reported at a railway station, J. P. Smith, a member of Cape Town’s mayoral committee, said in a statement on Monday.

Twenty-seven people were arrested in connection with blockading the N2 highway, while another eight had been detained in the Mfuleni area, he said.

“It is clear that there has been a level of premeditation in the actions we’ve witnessed over the past few days, with our enforcement staff removing piles of rocks and tires along the N2 yesterday afternoon,” Smith said. “There have also been clear attempts to target city staff and infrastructure.”

Officials from Santaco, which has distanced itself from the violence, were in a meeting and not immediately available for comment.

While tourist numbers are lower than during the summer months, a large contingent of foreigners have been in the city attending the Netball World Cup, which was contested by 16 nations and concluded Sunday.

The UK foreign office advised travellers to consider delaying their journeys and avoiding the airport until the roads were cleared.

South Africa’s privately owned minibus taxi industry employs about 300,000 drivers, who have a reputation for using violence to protect their routes, reckless driving and failing to pay their fines.

Taxis are often the only means of transport for many workers in low-income areas, with other public transport options often limited and unreliable.

“The ongoing violence is making it very difficult for negotiations to proceed,” Winde said. “A withdrawal of services is an important constitutional right, but violence, intimidation and destruction of property are not.

This is non-negotiable. We want to bring all stakeholders back to the negotiations, but this has to be in an environment of calm.”


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