When they took to the streets on the 15th of June 2017, marching against SA Taxi Finance, they brought the country’s economic hub to a standstill. Taxi owners and the drivers of Quantum minibuses in Gauteng protested against the exorbitant costs of the new Quantum and the hefty monthly installments. It is reported that a Quantum minibus now costs at least R450,000 compared to R220,000 in 2010. SA Taxi is a major minibus financier for Toyota and Nissan dealers.
Roughly, a monthly installment for a brand new Quantum is R15,000 a month and the deposit ranges between R30,000 and R50,000. On top of this, owners said they are expected to have finished paying after 72 months.
“By the time you finish paying, you are left with a scrap, you can’t make money with it. Instead the little you’d be making goes to repairs,” said one of the operators. They say the strike was a long time coming. Many owners are now out of business and are plunged into poverty.
Lindokuhle Ndlangisa, minibus taxi driver on a route between Johannesburg and Woodmead, works long hours for which he says he earns a paltry R600 a week, and this depends on what he would have made on the day. His boss will get more or less the same amount per day.
“As a father of three children, this is not enough. Unless there are special trips where one can make some bonus. We are fighting for a consistency in monthly payments [because of] a sheer disregard of our economic status. The taxi industry is no longer lucrative,” he said.
His colleague, Patrick Mabulana, who travels between Alexandra and Rabie Ridge, added that owning a Quantum is very costly. Besides paying SA Taxi Finance, there are traffic fines, maintenance and the petrol price is too high. “Really SA Taxi is killing us. Something needs to be done,” said the father of six children.
“What is even worse is when you skip two or three months without paying. They come to repossess your car. After doing some minor touch-ups, they sell it to the next owner at almost equally the same price of a brand new quantum. This is a rip-off,” said Jabulani Ntshangase from Alexandra Taxi Association (ATA) which is affiliated to the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), the major taxi body that organised the strike.
He added that when their cars are involved in an accident, SA Taxi does not allow just anyone to tow the vehicles they finance. It has its own in-house towing and panelbeating services. Insurance and tracking devices also belong to the company.
“They make sure all the money goes back to them. These are shrewd business people. Hence we are calling the government to help us establish our own finance company that will understand our pain,” he said.
Asked why they all use SA Taxi Finance. He said the company is different from other financial institutions because it has less stringent requirements when they apply for vehicle finance. This has given it an advantage and it enjoys a monopoly in the motor financing sector.
Among their demands, Santaco wants the 28,5% interest charged on loans for the new Quantums to be reduced and the owners who are blacklisted to be cleared.
Though SA Taxi Finance Holdings was reported to have promised them that interest rates will go down by 3%, this was not anywhere near to satisfying Santaco which is threatening to strike again on the 12th of July 2017.
Ntshangase added that the strike has reiterated their call for the industry to be regulated and subsidised like other modes of public transport. Responding to this, the spokeperson for the Department of Transport, Ishmael Mnisi said that while they sympathise with the concerns of the taxi owners, but they can’t condone the violent nature of the strikes.
“Almost 68% of our population is using taxis to get to their various destinations. Their role in public transport can’t be ignored. We are reviewing the funding policy for all modes of public transport. Negotiations are underway in Parliament. We want taxis to be clean and drivers to be professional. Taxis must be a safe space for everybody,” he said.
SA Taxi Finance Holdings was not available to comment at the time of going to publish.