Traffic in the Johannesburg CBD came to a standstill midday on Friday as Soweto taxi drivers marched to the Office of the Premier, parking their taxis in the streets and demanding to be allowed to operate on their routes again.
The protest came after Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Ismail Vadi, last week issued an ultimatum in a notice of intent to close taxi ranks and suspend routes of two rival taxi associations in Soweto, the Nancefield-Dube West Taxi Association (Nanduwe) and the Witwatersrand African Taxi Association (Wata).
The ongoing taxi conflict between Nanduwe and Wata has been simmering for several months, at times resulting in the loss of lives and interruption of commuter services.
Nanduwe taxi operators have been accusing Wata of defying a court judgement ordering them to withdraw their taxis from the Dube route and also prohibiting them from picking up passengers in the area. They have also been fighting over early morning pick-up points in Mofolo, Orlando West, and Central Western Jabavu.
Members of the Nanduwe group took to the streets on Friday and closed all intersections around the Office of the Premier and the MEC’s office, saying they have been prevented from operating on their routes by unknown security guards.
“Yesterday we could not even pick up passengers in our routes because armed security guards were posted at strategic places to prevent us. So we are not leaving here until the Premier comes here to address us. The MEC has failed us, so we are escalating this matter to the Premier,” a taxi driver who refused to be named said.
Streets affected included Harrison, Pritchard, Simmonds, President, Jeppe and Sauer, and others around the FNB Bank City.
Law-enforcement officers seemed overwhelmed to deal with the number of taxi drivers, resulting in one officer from the Johannesburg Metro Police Department firing a single bullet and getting chased by the drivers.
Meanwhile, Vadi is currently studying and considering written responses and representations from affected and interested parties following his notice of intent to close all Nanduwe and Wata taxi ranks and routes in Soweto.
The intended closures of taxi services along the affected routes in Soweto were to be suspended from July 6 to August 6.
Vadi said he would, in the next few days, announce his decision. Meanwhile, all affected taxi ranks and routes were to remain operational until such time as a decision had been made.