Cape Town taxi strike ends — after 5 deaths and 120 arrests

Minibus taxi drivers who’ve been on an eight-day strike that’s caused chaos in Cape Town called off their protest action and will return to work on Friday.

“The taxi strike is officially over,” Geordin Hill-Lewis, the city’s mayor, said late Thursday. “We have reached agreement.”

The drivers have been demonstrating in South Africa’s second-largest city and main tourist hub against the authorities’ decision to impound taxis that weren’t roadworthy or whose owners hadn’t paid traffic fines.

The dispute swiftly turned violent, with protesters barricading roads, setting buses alight and stoning privately owned cars.

Five people died in strike-related violence, including a 40-year-old British doctor, who was on holiday with family members in the country’s tourist hub.

He was shot after he took a wrong turn while travelling from the airport and was caught up in a protest in Nyanga township, the police said. No arrests have been made so far in connection with the killing.

At least 120 people were detained in connection with other protest-related crimes.

Under the deal reached with the South African National Taxi Council, the city will continue impounding vehicles that aren’t roadworthy, operate on incorrect routes or don’t have the required licenses.

A task team will draw up a list of other major offences within 14 days that would warrant taxis being seized.

“Road safety for commuters and other road users is a non-negotiable,” the city said in a statement.

“Santaco has agreed that never again will they call a strike during the middle of a working day, and that they will always give at least 36 hours’ notice ahead of planned strike action. “

The taxi owners’ association, which distanced itself from the violence, confirmed that the strike was over.

“On the fundamental issues, we seem to be finding each other, “ said Mandla Hermanus, Santaco’s chairman in the Western Cape province.

“We apologise to the public for the distress and the inconvenience.”

Schooling Disrupted

Minibus taxis are the main form of transport for many township residents because the public transport system is inadequate and unreliable.

The strike left many Capetonians unable to get to work and disrupted schooling for hundreds of thousands of children, because it was too difficult or dangerous for them to travel.

Golden Arrow Bus Services (Pty) Ltd. said a number of its vehicles were damaged or destroyed, while its staff had been intimidated.

Some stores owned by Woolworths Holdings Ltd. and other retailers ran out of fresh produce because of disruptions to deliveries and staff shortages, and some outlets shut or reduced their operating hours.

“While I deplore the impact of this entirely unnecessary strike, Cape Town has set an important precedent for South Africa’s future,” Hill-Lewis said.

“By steadfastly refusing to capitulate before violence and anarchy, Cape Town has not conceded an inch on our commitment to the rule of law.”

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Cape Town taxi strike ends — after 5 deaths and 120 arrests