June 22, 2020 / 10:58 AM / 18 days ago

Minibus drivers in South Africa strike over coronavirus funding

Stranded commuters wait for transportation at a bus terminal during a protest by taxi operators over the government's financial relief for the taxi industry, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Soweto, South Africa, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Drivers of minibus taxis in South Africa’s financial hub Gauteng went on strike on Monday to demand more financial support from government, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.

Dozens of taxis blocked busy roads in Johannesburg and Pretoria, confronting police and soldiers. Many people were stuck at taxi ranks, while others walked to work or piled onto buses.

Since a coronavirus shutdown began in late March, taxis have been permitted to operate at only 70% capacity under strict social distancing measures, a difficult situation as the industry depends on maximum passenger loads at low prices.

The loss of income from smaller loads and lower volumes due the shutdown, which saw most workplaces completely closed, has caused unhappiness in the industry, with operators threatening price increases of more 100% in some areas to cover losses.

The lockdown has been gradually eased and most of the workforce are now allowed to go to work.

On Friday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced a 1.1 billion one-off payment to registered taxi operators, amounting to about 5,000 rand ($287) per driver. He said this was not compensation for loss of revenue due to coronavirus restrictions but rather assistance from the government.

Taxi operators rejected the relief and the conditions linked to government’s plan to formalise the industry.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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