March 25, 2009

Taxi Strikers Blackmail South Africa

TAXI operators have threatened to bring the entire country to a halt with a strike lasting more than a week if their demands are not met.

Bus commuters were beaten and at least one bus driver was shot yesterday before angry, striking taxi drivers and their bosses handed a list of their demands to the ANC and the Gauteng department of transport.

The taxi men gave the party and the department seven days in which to respond to their objections to the bus rapid transport system or face a more crippling national strike.

Joe Mophuting, spokesman for the United Taxi Association Forum, an umbrella body representing Gauteng taxi organisations, said: “We are mobilising. If they don’t address this, we will bring the entire country to a halt for a week or two.”

He spoke soon after more than 4000 taxi operators and drivers handed a memorandum to the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who was accompanied by former spy boss Billy Masetlha and disgraced ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni.

Earlier , hundreds of taxis caused massive traffic jams, blocking busy intersections and driving at a snail’s pace on the M1 freeway. Armed with sticks and knobkerries, they beat motorists and pulled commuters off buses.

The police fired at them with rubber bullets. There were reports of looting in the CBD.

At the Grayston Drive offramp on the M1, taxi drivers pulled passengers out of a Greyhound bus, beating some with knobkerries. Others threw stones at passing cars.

A section of the highway was closed to allow ambulances to attend to injured passengers as other taxi drivers threatened to smash cars with bricks.

Early in the morning, a Putco bus driver was shot in the arm as he picked up passengers outside the Merafe Hostel, in Soweto.

Putco spokesman Raphiri Matsaneng said: “We have been talking to [our] drivers, who are scared. Our concern is not only for our own, but also for the safety of passengers. We will monitor the situation closely.”

The chairman of the United Taxi Association Forum, Ralph Jones, complained that the police opened fire on the strikers for no reason and arrested some in an attempt to “weaken” them.

He said the bus rapid transport system was never properly explained and a steering committee representing the taxi industry was “recalled” after failing to follow its mandate.

Trust Dlawayo, a pamphlet distributor on the M1 near the Grayston Drive off-ramp, said he saw a police helicopter firing tear gas at taxi drivers and motorists.

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