Members of the taxi industry joined gloved and sanitised hands on Monday to launch a Covid-19 awareness campaign in the Western Cape with a walkabout at the Cape Town taxi rank.
The campaign came at a time when the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in South Africa surged past the 400 mark, with the province having 100 cases.
The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) Western Cape chairperson Nazeem Abdurahman walked alongside Western Cape Transport MEC Bongani Madikizela and other officials through the busy taxi rank on Monday to spread the word on how to “flatten the curve”.
Heavily armed guards, with their gloved fingers over their weapons, accompanied Santaco and the MEC on the walkabout.
Talks are still ongoing to resolve the disputes over permits that leave drivers murdered and passengers caught in the crossfire.
But, on Monday, the only enemy for both parties was the virus.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and limited gatherings to 100 people, but public transport poses its own difficulties. For many people, this is the only way to preserve an income, to move around for vital errands, and for hospital and clinic visits.
The delegation offered hand sanitiser from squeeze bottles and handed out blue surgical gloves, explaining that more would come later for all the staff at the rank.
The marshals were keen to get their own set of gloves and masks, and heard that Santaco and the government were relying on them to help roll out the information on Covid-19 to all taxi ranks in the province.
The sanitisers and gloves donated by Santaco were welcomed by Madikizela.
“This is the kind of partnership we are demonstrating; that even though they are losing money, they are really committed to making sure that we deal with the scourge of Covid-19,” said Madikizela. “We are partners in this.”
He hoped it would not get to a point of a complete lockdown and reminded people to avoid bars and large gatherings. He urged people to self-isolate if they show symptoms.
Government planned to meet the taxi operators halfway with the costs of the materials they were using and had set up a national command to decide on these budgetary issues. The transport department was counting on drivers, marshals and operators to be at the forefront of getting out the message to sanitise and wash hands.
The message is that passengers have to sanitise as they get in and get out of a taxi, and that taxis have to be thoroughly cleaned every day. Taxis also have to distribute multilingual information pamphlets.
A marshal tasked with spreading the word is Sipho Pani. He does a quick jig as he sanitises the hands of a new passenger boarding the taxi.
He stops passengers about to board, and they immediately hunch over and offer their hands for a squirt of sanitiser. Some of the marshals, drivers and operators had gloves and masks, but most did not. Some used carpentry dust masks. Most commuters had neither.
Pani said he is afraid of contracting Covid-19, but he needs the job.
“I’ve got a family to feed,” said Pani, jogging off to spritz the hands of a driver leaving the rank. “Take this away!” said the driver irritably, as he nosed his taxi towards the exit. “You must believe in God.”
He also operates a mobile device to sell airtime, and the taxi is a business based on the exchange of cash all day long.
Operator Mandla Hermanus said business had dropped off and he was worried that, if it carried on like this, his vehicles might be repossessed.
Wearing a T-shirt with the ubiquitous taxi slogan Ses’fikile (We have arrived) on it, he said: “We are scared of the coronavirus. Today we are sanitising taxi drivers and passengers.”
Madikizela said there were talks over these concerns, but any decisions over bailouts were “above my pay grade” and in the realm of Ramaphosa’s measures in dealing with the pandemic.
Some taxi passengers covered their faces with scarves and sanitised their hands, but others got into the taxis without the spritz and sat waiting for the taxi to fill up and leave.
Some of the operators used the visit of the officials to complain about the state of the toilets, and one quipped that there was a lot of fuss about the “Cremora virus”.
“When is load shedding coming?” asked another cynic of the officials.
Abdurahman said Santaco will also take precautions over Easter, one of its busiest times, with one of their busiest routes being between the Western and Eastern Cape.
They are not sure how they can minimise the number of passengers from the usual 16.
“We are safe for now, but we will take the necessary precautions to ensure that we curb the spread of this disease,” he said.
Usually the message at this time of year is preventing road deaths but, on Monday, washing hands and preventing the spread of Covid-19 was key.
“We are doing this without subsidy,” said Abdurahman. “We took our children’s food money,” he said of the equipment purchased by Santaco so far.
Measures for taxi ranks are:
Taxi ranks to be cleaned and sanitised twice a day (early morning and evenings);
Queue marshals and rank officials to wear masks;
Commuters’ hands will be sanitised prior to entering the taxi or while standing in the queue at big ranks and interchanges;
Printed brochures will be issued to commuters;
Overloading will be discouraged; and
Stigmatisation will be discouraged.
Public transport in Cape Town has been complicated due to a paralysed Metrorail Central line, and an as-yet unresolved impasse over who gets to run the N2 MyCiTi Express to Khayelitsha.
MyCiTi has asked passengers to practice “meticulous” hygiene and to avoid full or overcrowded buses.
The elderly and anyone with a sore throat or underlying health issues are asked to avoid using the bus during peak time, and passengers must wash their hands before and after using the bus. It is also increasing fumigation and cleaning of buses, and wiping it down with sanitiser.
Golden Arrow Bus Services has also added extra cleaning and sanitisation, and its crews have been working on this already.
GOOD party member and former transport mayoral committee member in the City of Cape Town, Brett Herron, has called on the city to use the parked N2 Express MyCiTi buses to allow for social distancing in buses, and to reduce the number of people in taxis.
“More buses on the routes will reduce crowding and reduce the risk of infection for commuters who do not have the luxury of working from home.”
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.