September 6, 2012Produced by Peter Moyo
John Zwelibanzi was sold an illegally converted taxi in 2008. He had to drive all the way from Khayelitsha in Cape Town to collect it Johannesburg. On paper, everything looked perfect; the vehicle had already been passed and issued with an operating license disk. His excitement soon turned to sadness as the traffic law enforcers pounced on him. He is one of the hundreds of taxi owners who find themselves blacklisted as a result of the same issue. Observers blame the Department of Transport for failing to ensure that illegally converted panel vans were not registered under the e-Natis system and sold to unsuspecting taxi owners.In the final installment of our investigation into the irregularities relating to the illegal conversion of panel vans into taxis, we look at the alleged regulatory failures within Department of Transport. The Taxi Recapitalisation Programme which was first announced in 1999 to improve minibus taxi safety and law enforcement, was meant to replace an estimated 80% of the national minibus taxi fleet which did not meet the new safety standards. As part of this requirement, in 2005 Toyota introduced a new minibus taxi, also known as the Quantum Ses’fikile. The new addition fully complied with the requirements of the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme and was lauded for offering high levels of safety and comfort, as well as better operating efficiencies for taxi owners. However, some saw a commercial opportunity through changing the original specifications.
What taxi owners did not know was that the retro fitment made this new ‘taxi’ unstable and structurally unsound.
As early as 2006, hundreds of the illegally converted panels were already being sold to unsuspecting taxi owners at twice the price of the manufacturer approved vehicles. The motive behind this was that the retro fitted panel could carry more passengers compared to the Ses’fikile minibus. What taxi owners did not know was that the retro fitment made this new ‘taxi’ unstable and structurally unsound.In Short Changed 3, our investigation focuses on how as much as 2 453 of these vehicles ended up being licensed as bona fide taxis by the Department of Transport. What was the responsibility of the department in ensuring the safety of commuters?This series has looked at the extent to which body builders, dealerships and financial institutions were implicated in this scandal and the final programme coincides with the final stage of Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s countrywide consultations on the same issue