The country’s first Bus Rapid Transit system in Johannesburg could be hijacked by a taxi strike and the threat of legal action. The scheduled launch of Rea Vaya – billed as the nation’s debut BRT project – on August 31 could be stopped by a court interdict being sought by Doldotha Taxi Association, a member of the United Taxi Association Forum, formed by various taxi associations in Gauteng and Polokwane.

And in another threat to the groundbreaking 2010 project, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has threatened to embark on a national strike from September 1, because it was left out of the negotiations.

Philip Taaibosch, the secretary-general of Santaco, said the industry was angry that the government had also gone back on its word regarding an undertaking made at the national joint working group established by President Jacob Zuma.

He said the taxi national body believed that national, provincial and local governments should all be part of the decision-making process.

“While we were busy putting a memorandum of agreement together, the city of Johannesburg has run a parallel process to set up the BRT. They (the city) have not respected the negotiating process started by the government.”

Taaibosch said while the industry was ready to negotiate, it would not hesitate to strike, affecting thousands of commuters throughout the country.

Joe Mophuthing, public relations officer of the Doldotha Taxi Association, said they would withdraw services in protest against the launch of the BRT.

“This withdrawal, which will take place nationwide – and which is not a strike in the sense that we will march to a certain place or disrupt the traffic or ferry members – is because the government is not negotiating with us in good faith.”

He said the taxi body would be seeking a court interdict to stop Rea Vaya from launching.

“After we spoke to (President) Jacob Zuma prior to elections, he said he would deal with the issue… and he laid down issues we need to iron out prior to negotiations.

“That was agreed.

“Then came the city of Johannesburg – (executive director) Lisa Seftel, as well as (city Transport Department head) Rehana Mosajee and Mayor Amos Masondo, and they said they are going ahead (with plans for BRT) regardless . I am saying if the national, provincial and local cannot speak with one voice, there is a problem. Who is issuing the orders?”

Mandlenkosi George Maphalala, chairman of the Witwatersrand African Taxi Owners Association, said Ndebele had told the taxi associations to form a national joint working group.

They did this and included the affected associations in Soweto – Soweto Taxi Service, Doldotha (Dobsonville, Lerathong West, Johannesburg) Taxi Association, Orange Farm United Taxi Association, BaraCity, Diepmeadow and Alexandra Taxi Association – so negotiations could continue.

Maphalala said the Johannesburg City Council had provoked the industry by launching the buses last Sunday.

“We were still waiting for the outcome of our negotiations with the government,” he said.

Eric Mothswane, chairman of the Johannesburg Taxi Council and head of the BRT steering committee negotiating with the City of Joburg, however, said negotiations were still in progress for “participation in and ownership of the BRT”.

George Mahlalela, the national Transport Department’s deputy director-general, said discussions were continuing with the taxi industry ahead of the BRT’s planned launch. “We want the taxi industry buy-in so this project can work for commuters,” he said.

“Threats are not good and are a bad negotiating stance, but I don’t think we need to be worried, because at the end of the day, the government has to govern. We can’t be frustrated when it is about delivering a service to the people, even when a service provider is aggrieved,” he said.

Masondo said: “This project is very complex and holds a great promise to transform the transport industry. What we need more than ever before is a partnership that is committed to improve the quality of life of all our people.”