SA's Minibus Taxis: Black Economic Empowerment vs. Public Danger

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The reckless and dangerous driving of minibus taxi drivers on the busy streets of Johannesburg has always been a worry to me. However, behind the horrifying road accidents and notorious taxi wars lays a multi-billion Dollar black-owned industry, and today I would like to have a look at both sides of the coin.

Minibus taxis in South Africa are dominated by 16-seater Toyota HiAce buses. The industry, which emerged in the late 1980s and which generally caters to commuters of a lower economic class, is said to be the only sector in South Africa in which black people have total control through their ownership.

These minibus taxis carry over 60% of the country’s commuters. Many say that the minibus taxi industry of the country represents a model of successful black economic empowerment. With an estimated annual revenue of R39.8 Billion (US$ 3.7 Billion), the minibus taxi industry of South Africa is definitely a pillar of black economic empowerment on the continent. However, the dark side to this powerful and growing sector is devastating.

Minibus taxi drivers in South Africa are known to be violent and reckless. Taxi wars or turfs fought between taxi associations and individual taxi drivers claim over 100 lives each year. But besides the violence amongst the drivers themselves, the horror stretches out to the 14 million people who rely on these minibus taxis each day.
In the beginning of the 21st century, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that South Africa’s minibus taxi industry has the reputation for having one of the worst accident rates in the world. Studies have shown that over 1200 South Africans are killed every month on the road, leaving the country ranked second on the continent, behind Nigeria, in terms of road fatalities.

With approximately 36 daily deaths on South African roads, 3 are directly related to these taxis (these numbers increase over Easter holidays and the Festive Season). Although the daily death rate seems to only account for about 9% of road deaths, statistics show that minibus taxis in South Africa amount for double the rate of crashes in comparison to other vehicles.

South Africa’s minibus taxi drivers are known for their violence, their blatant disregard for road regulations, poor maintenance of their vehicles, their recklessness as well as their habit of overloading their vehicles with passengers. For instance, in 2010 a minibus taxi driver was arrested for driving drunk with 49 children in his 16-seater vehicle. This is nothing but a grain in the sad.

Whilst doing research for this post, I found that many South Africans defend this industry. Yes, it is an economic milestone for blacks in the country, but I for one strongly believe that something needs to be done. Despite the government’s efforts to regulate the industry in the best interests of public safety, in the eyes of the everyday commuter such as myself, things seem to get worse every day.

People often joke and say that the road belongs to these drivers and that individual drivers such as myself need to yield to the drivers before respecting road rules. This may sound funny, but it sadly true for red lights, stop signs and any other road rules mean nothing to these reckless minibus taxi drivers.

I was a minibus taxi commuter for almost 5 years and the industry has been a great help to me and continues to provide affordable transport to over 60% of the population. I am all for black economic empowerment; however, not at the mercy of thousands of lives lost and people injured each day.

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