DYING FOR TRANSPARENCY? : TAXI HITS, THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT AND THE CULTURE OF SECRECY

On the night of Sunday 15 March prominent taxi operator Azarius Dalisu Sangweni was shot dead outside his KwaDabeka home. His assassination followed that of his colleague Charles Khuzwayo, who was shot dead outside of his Pinetown home a month earlier. Both of the deceased were leading members of the Durban West Interim Committee attempting to engage with eThewini municipality to procure documents it had signed with SANTACO (the government funded Taxi Council) about the implementation of the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN), known locally as GoDurban. Sangweni had also put his name to a working document titled ‘Alleged maladministration, wasteful and fruitless expenditure’ which, he hoped, would ultimately lead for an investigation into both the Department of Transport and SANTACO by the Public Protector. Among the millions wasted was expenditure on hiring an aeroplane, and associated costs, to advertise the supposed launch of Santaco Airlines – which never materialised. The hits on Sangweni and Khuzwayo followed the same pattern, including insofar as they occurred after they had attended meetings at nearby Kranskloof hostel. There are now serious concerns for the safety of associates of the deceased who were working to demand transparency and accountability from government departments, including members of the Durban West Interim Committee , and the Taxi Alliance, whose names are known to KZN Monitor but are being withheld at their request.

The much publicised GoTransport system involving new bus and train networks is forging ahead, with reports of infrastructural development such as new depots for Rea Vaya buse, including at Pinetown and Inanda. This new transport system is financed by the National Treasury, and involves collaboration between different levels of government (national, provincial and local). This new system is clearly going to have a major impact on taxi services in urban areas, with reports that fewer people are using this mode of transport at Inanda since the introduction of new rail and bus links. Despite the Thekwini municipality claiming that there has been full stakeholder engagement, and that the taxi leadership has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with city leaders about participation, most taxi operators do not know what the terms of the agreement are. What they suspect is happening is that taxi operations will be confined to areas outside of wherever this national transport policy is being implemented, and that they will simply drop off passengers at designated urban points.

Not all taxi associations and operators are affiliated with SANTACO and, within that government structure, communication between leadership and those who vote their representatives into office is said to be poor. Despite the huge expenditure, even members were not told about the Santaco Airline fiasco, and nor did the Department provide information; it was left to a KZN newspaper to uncover the truth of what had happened. The government will apparently only deal with SANTACO, and will not provide information to other taxi bodies except through their lawyers.. Where is democracy, transparency and accountability to the taxpayers, including the late Sangweni and Khuzwayo, who pay the salaries of the Department of Transport, and finance SANTACO ?

When a promised presentation by SANTACO did not materialise, Sangweni was among those whose signatures were on letters to the municipality requesting permission to march and hand over a memorandum about their demands during latter 2014, and the request to the eThekwini Transport Authority for a copy of the memorandum it had signed with SANTACO. Initially he and his associates were told that they could collect a copy but, on their return, they were allegedly told that SANTACO had threatened to sue if they released the memorandum because there were ‘secrecy clauses’

This conduct by the Department of Transport and its extension, SANTACO, and the eThekwini municipality is yet another manifestation of a growing culture of authoritarianism and secrecy, which is the antithesis of the spirit of the Constitution. It must not be allowed to continue. The public, including taxi operators, must have access to whatever documentation has been signed between the municipality and SANTACO.

It seems that the quest for their constitutional right to transparency may have killed Sangweni and Khuzwayo. According to a former associate, he had withdrawn from the process of demanding accountability after he received a tip off that his life was in danger if he ‘fought with the government’ about its policy. These chilling words have serious implications for the safety of those working with Sangweni. His funeral is on Human Rights Day -the day celebrating the rights for which he died.