…passengers now face severe risks from irate and reputedly SA taxi owners
Basotho motorists, who transport people via the popular ‘Catch a Ride’ scheme are now facing deep trouble in South Africa. Their passengers face severe risks as well.
The Catch a Ride vehicles are now being impounded by violent registered South African taxi operators. They only get released after they have paid huge ransoms (fines) of up to M11 000.
The popular Catch a Ride scheme allows motorists, who are not licensed as public transport operators, to recruit paying passengers on Facebook and move them from Lesotho to different parts of South Africa without any cross-border transport permits.
Catch a Ride is also available in Lesotho for private motorists to tout for paying passengers, by connecting via Facebook and WhatsApp, and moving them from district to district.
The scheme has become quite lucrative for private motorists. Any motorist driving to Gauteng for instance can ask anyone going in the same direction to Catch a Ride with them on Facebook for a fee.
The pirate motorists can even afford to charge more than the licenced taxis because their cars are more comfortable than the crammed registered public transport vehicles. For instance, a South African registered taxi charges M310 per passenger from the Maseru Bridge station to Johannesburg’s MTN taxi rank, while pirate motorists charge M350 for a similar journey.
Licensed taxi operators in South Africa are therefore seething in anger. They say the Catch a Ride practice is depriving them of revenues and promoting illegal human trafficking. The established practice is for public transport users to board registered taxis from the South African side of the Maseru Bridge Border post and travel to Bloemfontein or Gauteng and vice versa. They can also travel in public transport with cross border permits from Lesotho to various destinations in South Africa.
Registered public transport operators in Lesotho are also unhappy with the Catch a Ride practice. They say it is cannibalizing their legally registered businesses.
The Catch a Ride practice can potentially put the lives of ordinary passengers at risk as South African taxi operators are notorious for their violence in fighting for routes and passengers.
The Lesotho Times has learnt that vehicles bearing Lesotho number plates with more than one passenger are now being randomly stopped and seized by South African taxi owners. The motorists are then made to pay heavy fines of up to M11 000 to get their vehicles back.
But this random and knee jerk response by the South African taxi operators is also problematic as a majority of motorists are not Catch a Ride pirates. They are ordinary motorists moving with their families for business or private purposes.
South Africa’s Manyatseng Taxi Association chairperson, Seabata Nkatana, has vowed stern action against motorists from Lesotho transporting people to South Africa. His association represents the taxi owners who pick up Basotho from the Maseru Bridge border to different parts of South Africa.
They will not tolerate the Catch a Ride practice any more as they had an obligation to protect their own businesses, Mr Nkatana declared.
Catch a Ride motorists from Lesotho were “stealing passengers” and destroying the business of registered South African taxi owners, he said.
In an ominous warning, Mr Nkatana told the Lesotho Times South African taxi owners would “clean their own yard” by taking stern action against the Catch a Ride operators.
“We are legally in the public transportation business, and we cannot watch other people who are not authorized to do so to take it away from us,” Mr Nkatana said.
“The intention is not intended to hurt anyone, but the level of disrespect we are getting from Lesotho nationals who own private cars is out of control. We need to put an end to that.
“It is well known that when one buys a private car, it is solely to transport them and their next of kins. We cannot therefore have them taking full loads of people and claiming to be a family when we find them charging such ‘relatives’ for use of the vehicles.
“We are not fools. We are in business here and that has to be respected. You cannot give someone a lift and make them pay.”
Mr Nkatana said the Catch a Ride practice was also promoting human trafficking. Usage of public transport on the other hand was the best way to combat human trafficking because taxi operators recorded details of every passenger who boards their vehicles. That in turn made it easier for people to be traced.
He said the other reason why illegal miners and other people, engaging in ‘dirty dealings’ got away easily, was because they bypassed registered taxis and used private motorists to pick them to and from the borders.
“They break the law in Lesotho and skip the country into South Africa and vice-versa and it makes it difficult to trace them because they use these so-called Catch a Ride lifts.
“Most of the cars that we have impounded belong to government officials in Lesotho. Some belong to police officers, nurses and very prominent people and they are fully aware that they are ferrying passengers at a fee. We surely cannot be expected to let that happen. Not under our watch.”
He, however, said that they were not lunatics who would impound every car with a Lesotho number plate that is full of people.
“We know how family ties work in our African culture. Therefore, we are not impounding vehicles willy-nilly. We interview passengers on board to get a clue. Usually, their answers give them away that they have hitch-hiked in a Catch a Ride car,” Mr Nkatana said.
He said an impounded Catch a Ride vehicle would have to pay a fine of M11 000 to be released.
“If the driver fails to pay the M11 000 fine immediately, it accumulates a M100 interest charge every day and his vehicle remains in custody. If Basotho are not ready to cooperate, this is what they will be getting from us.
“This is not for our benefit only, it is even for their (Basotho) own safety. When one of our taxis gets into an accident, it is always easier to trace and inform their next of kin within a very short space of time, unlike in a case where people took a ride from someone they do not know in a Catch a Ride,” said Mr Nkatana.
Meanwhile, the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) spokesperson, Lebohang Moea, said they would also protect their businesses against the “scourge” of the Catch a Ride practice.
“We are not going to be diplomatic about it. We will not take this lying down. We are ready to start our counter attacks, and they (Catch a Ride motorists) are not going to like our approach. If push comes to a shove and we are met with violence, we are ready to return the favor and get violent too.
“What is even hurting is because our traffic officers are not efficient when they have to help us. They are just way too corrupt and are always ready to accept bribes instead of doing what they have been hired for. We will do all that it takes to protect our businesses,” said Mr Moea.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport has issued a stern warning against Catch a Ride private car owners sourcing passengers from social media platforms without the rightful requirements to be in the public transportation business.
“It has come to our realization that there are people who are travelling in vehicles which are not legally registered to do so, and they contact them (sic) over social media or by calling such drivers operating under the name ‘catch a ride’.
“The ministry therefore appeals to all Basotho who are doing so to cease with immediate effect as that may put them at risk. A reminder is therefore made that a taxi earmarked for ferrying passengers has got to have a cross-border permit, a registration plate number, a triangle sticker patched on the windscreen, a certificate of fitness, a board showing the destination of such vehicle and should use a taxi rank,” the statement read.