…Taxi operators shun minister’s meeting
…Vow to park their vehicles for month until mobile court is removed from the road
The battle between the transport ministry and taxi operators took a sour turn this week when Botha-Bothe taxi operators shunned a meeting called by Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla.
The minister had sent a delegation made up of Principal Secretary Tlhopheho Sefali and Traffic Commissioner Mathabo Tšosane, while he (the minister) went to Mokhotlong for other business.
The minister’s meeting coincided with the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO)-led countrywide advocacy against the existence of the highly unpopular Mobile court.
The advocacy started this week with an aim to lobby for a nationwide boycott of the Mobile court operations wherever it goes in the country.
Last week the court was operating in Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng, and was met with a glaring taxi operators’ boycott.
Seeing the Southern region’s reaction to the mobile court, the Maseru based taxi operators elected a task team to lobby taxi associations countrywide to protest against the operations of the mobile court from October 21.
“We are going to park our cars until such a time when this monstrous public enemy called the Mobile court has been removed from our roads,” MRTO chairperson Mokete Jonase said.
According Jonase, the government has failed to address all their grievances citing a pending court case where they are challenging the increased service tariffs.
“We are not surprised that to date they have not given us audience nor have they responded to our letter on the existence of the mobile court.
“It is now clear that they are willing to fight us back and we are ready to show then that this is our industry,” he said.
“We wrote a letter to the government hoping that there will be some kind of negotiations or attempts to resolve our issues, but very unfortunate they told us that we need to go and comply with Road Traffic Acts, telling us off as though we are criminals who marvel at benefiting from acts of crimes.
“The government is violating us, we are the victims here and Lesotho is an independent country. We have remained voiceless with no freedom of speech for a very long time, but no more,” Jonase said.
According to Ntumeleng Ntšekhe, the ministry’s Spokesperson, the ministry was going to educate transport operators how to best protect themselves and commuters during the Covid-19 era, as well as the operations of the Mobile court.
“The minister assigned the Principal Secretary Tlhopheho Sefali and Traffic Commissioner Mathabo Tšosane to Botha-Bothe to give lessons on how the mobile court operates. Very unfortunately the meeting did not proceed. The meeting was not entirely centred on the mobile court. We were only to address the issues as a by-the-way, because the mobile court’s operations entail implementing our laws.
“Yes it’s true that the taxi operators refused to attend the meeting called by the minister, but rather opted to attend the one called by the MRTO.
“We are however not shocked that they shunned our meeting and opted for the other one because they are members of the association, or have an affiliation somehow,” Ntšekhe said noting that the trip was meant to allay transport operators’ fears of the mobile court.
“When motorists see the mobile court, the see a monster meant to abuse and victimise them financially and that is not true,” she said.
MRTO on their end managed to convene a successful meeting with buses, 4+1 and taxi operators’ associations from Botha-Bothe and Leribe.
The association representatives were given a platform to voice out their views of the existence of the mobile court, many which cried foul, saying they were being victimised.
Khalinyane Motaung from the Botha Bothe Taxi Association pointed out that government ministers by virtue of being politicians, are supposed to serve them as the public who have voted them into power.
“We are instructing them to remove that thing off our roads. These politicians who are the government today were elected by us but they are physically, economically and mentally abusing us.
“The Road Fund could have consulted us about the mobile court before imposing it on us to find out if we are at this stage in a state of economical readiness to deal with this thing. If the government does not listen to us, we are going on strike,” he said.
He added, “If that court of theirs comes to Botha-Bothe, they will see something worse than what they experienced in Mohale’s Hoek. We are going to park our cars and show them that this is our industry and not theirs.”
Motaung questions the intention of revenue collection by Road Fund, charging the government is using the nation as their ‘cash cow’.
“What is the intention of the government with our money? Are they trying to milk us dry? This issue of Iveco is not a child’s play. We are going to unite as taxi operators and show government that they are not governing animals but people. We are tired of being treated like criminals in our own country, Khilik!” Motaung fumed.
Meanwhile, Khoali Motenalapi from the Mokhotlong Taxi Association charged, “We are tired of being abused and I believe that this strike is going to set us free from being victims.
“We are told that our cars are not roadworthy, but the question remains, are our roads worthy for the brand new cars they are demanding we have? We buy second hand cars here in the country trying to eke a living out of the ruthless public transport industry and we are also expected to endure being subjected to such torturous economic abuse,” he said.
Thera Letsoela on the other hand indicated that although their industry is looked down on, they remain the backbone of the country’s economy, an industry which provides employment for the youth.
“Even though the government finds this transport industry very funny, we are the backbone of this country, we contribute a lot to the growing of economy of this country, we pay tax and we hire people to reduce unemployment rate.
“The taxi operators across the country have one voice and we need the government to quickly realise that. We demand that it removes the court and revisit the existing laws,” Letsoela said.
When contacted on possible remedies the ministry is planning to engage, Ntšekhe said the ministry is still hoping to have a sit-down with the taxi operators.
“We called a meeting last week but they opted to call a press conference where they announced their plan to travel across the country lobbying other operators to join in the strike, so to this end we still have not devised any remedial measures to what they are planning,” the spokesperson said.
The operators resolved to stage a mass protest on October 21 where all their vehicles will cease operations until such time when the government has given an ear and have removed the court from the roads.
Jonase on behalf of taxi operators revealed that their decision to postpone their October 14 strike was motivated by Mohale’s Hoek’s move to boycott the Mobile Court operations last week, a move they greatly commended.
The chairperson last week told journalists that they postponed their protest to October 21 from the initially-set date of October 14.
“We want all the public transport operators to take part in this strike. The plan is to have a public transport shutdown for 7 days or more so as to make an impact. We have appointed a temporary committee that will focus on the strike preparations and the members are representatives of all public transport operators’ organisations from across the country,” Jonase said.
He explained that MRTO is spearheading the protest working in collaboration with 4+1 owners and bus owners.
“The working committee will visit the 10 districts of Lesotho from next week Monday starting from Leribe and Botha- Bothe. We will prove to the government that it’s not us as the working committee who are against the Mobile court operations but all taxi operators throughout the country.
“We only have two reasons to object the existence of the Mobile Court. It’s very unfortunate that the government does not bother to ask or hear our concerns,” Mokete said.
For his part, Bataung Thulo, the Regional Secretary confirmed that the strike will be going on in all ten districts simultaneously and not in Maseru only.
“The strike will take place and this time people will witness the unity in the public transport industry when it comes to dealing with our welfare,” he said.