THE Mangatseng Taxi Association has dismissed as far-fetched statements by South African Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters that the cross border impasse betweeen Free State and Maseru taxi operators was fuelled by the heavy involvement of Free State law enforcement officials and civil servants in the transport industry.
The association said the minister was allowing herself to be misled on the issue and dared her to institute forensic investigations into the cross border impasse betweeen Free State and Maseru.
Minister Peters recently issued a statement saying her office strongly suspected that the involvement of law enforcement officials and civil servants caused the impasse.
The statement was issued after local taxi operators blocked the Maseru border gate from 2 to 4 January demanding a share of the Christmas profits as thousands of Basotho were travelling back to various destinations in South Africa.
Ms Peters said it was “important for the affected parties to keep in mind that the Cross Border Passenger Operations between South Africa and the neighbouring countries are regulated by the Southern African Customs Union Memorandum of Understanding on Road Transportation (SACU MoU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology”.
“We have a strong suspicion that some civil servants and especially law enforcement officials in the Free State and the Kingdom of Lesotho have an interest in the passenger transport industry.”
Ms Peters said their suspicions were based “on the noted laxity and selective manner with which they enforce transport-related laws in the Province”.
She added that she would soon hold a meeting will be held with the Premier of Free State Province to discuss the impasse and find an amicable solution to the challenges which had the potential of causing diplomatic tension between the two countries.
However, Mangatseng Taxi Association chairperson, Seabata Nkatane yesterday told this publication that the minister’s strong allegation were made without proof, suggesting that she was being misled.
“I have heard this statement before and every time these cross border operations between Free State and Maseru experince problems, the minister makes these startling allegations without a proof,” Mr Nkatane said.
“’M’e Dipuo has all resources as the minister and I dare her to kick-start a forensic investigations into the Free State taxi industry and see if she will find any police officer involved in the transport industry,” he said.
He said the minister had never consulted the Free State taxi operators on the cross border issue.
“Right now the Lesotho taxi operators are quiet and they will come back during the Easter holidays.
“Why is it that they only demand a stake in the cross border operations during major holidays,” Mr Nkatane queried, adding this was the right time for the two governments to thoroughly investigate the matter.
Mr Nkatane argued that it was a known fact that the economic recession had affected all countries and “with the rate at which the minister is trying to push this thing down our throat, they risk turning this into a xenophobic problem”.
“We will not sit down and watch our bread being taken away from our table that easily,” Mr Nkatane said.
He said the impasse could be solved through dialogue between Ms Peters and the South African taxi operators on one hand, as well as another between the Free State and Lesotho taxi operators.
“We are proposing a formal meeting at least a month before the holidays, where we will sit and agree on how many vehicles must take part in the cross border.
“For instance, the Lesotho operators could give us 10 vehicles which will be put on different routes in South African and vice versa. We are willing to sit and talk.”
Efforts to get comment from Ms Peters’ office were fruitless yesterday as the phones went straight to voicemail.
However, Transport and Public Works Principal Secretary Majakathata Mokoena-Thakhisi refuted allegations made against him by Mr Nkatane that he had misled Ms Peters into believing that South African law enforcement agents had a stake in the taxi industry.
“The people who have been saying this are people in the transport industry.
“In the Cross Border Agreement that was signed in South Africa in December, there is a written acknowledgement that there were Free State law enforcement officials with keen interest in the transport industry, hence the cross border headache, Mr Mokoena-Thakhisi said.