One of the unwholesome characteristics of President Jacob Zuma’s administration is its brazen pandering to African National Congress special interest groups.
The unions, of course, have always enjoyed a special relationship. They can trash city centres and with impunity heave rocks at their opponents, confident that their membership of the ANC’s tripartite alliance will shield them from a vigorous police response and subsequent prosecutions.
It can be seen, too, in the ANC reaction to the blight wrought by the teachers unions. The ANC would rather tolerate the economic and personal havoc inflicted upon an entire generation, than compel teachers actually to do their jobs.
The military veterans of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) and tribal leaders have also been awarded special status. Every MK veteran has been promised a state-sponsored home by the end of the year, while the chiefs — their political importance emphasised in the euphemism “traditional leaders” — are receiving increasingly lavish cash hand-outs, as well as assurances of patronage over vast areas of land claimed for redistribution.
The ANC’s manipulative enthusiasm for a largely illusory heyday of African “custom” shows in its egg-dancing over initiation schools. Each year hundreds die from botched circumcisions, while many hundreds more suffer disfiguring mutilation and amputation.
Yet it was only this week that the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs — a string of misnomers matched only by the infelicitous combination in the department of women, children and people with disabilities — stirred itself to announce that it was “working on” a policy to regulate the initiation schools. If it works with the same alacrity that home affairs is according the so-called “urgent” reassessment of the tourist visa disaster, it will be years yet before legislation is drafted.
It is with the minibus taxi industry, however, that the craven indulgence of ANC special interests can best be seen. To start with, the industry is already powerful in its own right, arguably more so than the steadily shrinking trade unions.
There are approximately 150 000 minibus taxis, each workday moving two-thirds of the country’s commuters. The industry contributes an estimated R40 billion a year to the economy and sustains 600 000 direct and indirect jobs.
It is also a violence-ridden, poorly regulated, mafia-like monstrosity, rampaging through South African society in the unchecked manner of America’s illicit liquor industry during prohibition. If the turf-protecting taxi bosses were just unleashing destruction upon one another — a kind of criminal Darwinism — that might be tolerable, even desirable. Unfortunately, it is the ordinary citizen who bears the brunt.
An Automobile Association study found that there are 70 000 minibus taxi crashes a year, which is double the rate of crashes for all other passenger vehicles. As Arrive Alive notes, minibus taxis operate at far more demanding levels than do passenger cars, they are often overloaded, and they travel at excessive speeds in order to cut turnaround times.
A cursory scroll through the past month’s newspapers gives scale to the problem. Since mid-August there have been at least 13 minibus accidents, killing 53 people and injuring 120.
Behind this bloody carnage lurks the reality of poor law enforcement. Whether it be fear, corruption or the instructions of their political masters — as when eThekwini’s mayor, in response to rioting minibus drivers, recently released without fines 44 impounded unroadworthy or unregistered taxis — the industry gets away with murder and mayhem.
National Taxi Association general secretary Alpheus Mlalazi said in March: “For the past four months, every day a taxi driver, operator and commuter was killed — mostly in assassination fashion. No one has been arrested, charged or prosecuted.”
Ronald Swartz, head of the Gauteng roads and transport department, says that the taxi industry has been “infiltrated and manipulated” by police officers who themselves own taxis and collude with provincial officials to flout the law. There is a huge racket in fake licences but not a single arrest or prosecution.
After a recent accident in KwaZulu-Natal, where 16 people died when a taxi failed to stop at an intersection and flipped over a guardrail to land in the path of an oncoming train, the investigators released details of the state of the vehicle. It was found to be structurally unstable, had bad brakes, various illegal modifications and was deemed “unroadworthy and dangerous”. Yet it had been issued a roadworthiness certificate just two months earlier.
Everywhere in the world special interest groups extract favours from the governing party in return for promises of support. But when this reaches the level of tolerating criminal actions by swathes of society, the rule of law is fatally compromised to the detriment of everyone.
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