Radical elements in the taxi industry have threatened to “kill” if their demands to own and run the new bus rapid transit (BRT) system in its entirety are not met.

Speaking before Thursday’s meeting between Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele and the government-recognised South African National Taxi Council about the urban bus system, the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) says it is prepared to die for its demands, “and we will kill anyone who gets in our way”.

“We will turn Cape Town into another Baghdad. We know how and we have the means to do it,” Mvuyisi Mente, the spokesperson for the Western Cape branch of the NTA, told Weekend Argus last week.

He added that taxi strikes would only form a fraction of the disturbances and demonstrations they were prepared to roll out in protest.

“I have thousands of soldiers in my ranks who are prepared to die for this. We are serious about this. You know it and we know it.”

Their chilling threats came hot on the heels of President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address on Wednesday when he said that the stalled BRT project was now back on the government’s agenda and would recommence with this week’s meeting which is expected to pave the way for broader negotiations between the Department of Transport and the taxi industry over the coming months.

The BRT project, which is scheduled to commence in Joburg in September before extending to Cape Town, will eventually be rolled out in other cities around the country, and will replace minibus taxis with buses that will operate on dedicated lanes to alleviate traffic and congestion in urban South Africa. Though the government’s intention is to allow the owners of the taxi industry to part-own and operate certain sections of the proposed system, some taxi owners say they will settle for nothing short of 100 percent ownership and operation.

“Why should we take 50 percent or 60 percent ownership, or whatever they are offering us, when we already have 100 percent?” asked NTA national secretary Alpheus Mlalazi.

However, other sections of the industry have had the foresight to see that growing congestion on the city’s roads compounded by the expected peak in the global oil supply in coming years will eventually force an end to the 16-seater commuter taxis anyway and they have begun to co-operate with the government on the BRT.

In Joburg, the taxi industry has formed a steering committee which is co-operating with city officials on the first phase of the local project along the Rea Vaya route that will stretch from Soweto to Joburg.

“From what we are hearing from the city, we are in broad agreement with it,” the committee’s spokesman Theo Malele said. “But we have yet to do our own economic evaluation of what it will really mean for us and until we are clear about that, we will not commit 100 percent.”

How Ndebele will bring the various factions of the taxi industry on board remains to be seen. Yet just how serious the more radical elements of the industry are about their threats is something he will not want to test.

* In a four-part series beginning in Cape Argus on Thursday and concluding on these pages next Sunday, Fiona Forde looks at the taxi industry that started out with a small fleet in the late 1970s and how it slowly grew into the unregulated 200 000-strong fleet that it is today and why this is a sector that will be the hardest for Zuma to tame.