Taxi operators strike leaves commuters stranded

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Pascalinah Kabi

THOUSANDS of commuters around the country were left stranded yesterday when taxi operators began a seven-day nationwide strike to press the government to withdraw the mobile traffic court which they say has eroded their revenue through exorbitant spot fines for traffic offences.

The strike is the brainchild of the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) which mobilised other transport operators across the country to support its move to withdraw vehicles from the road.

The strike went ahead despite a last-minute decision by cabinet to withdraw the mobile court which sits in an Iveco vehicle and moves around the country imposing spot penalties.

MRTO chairperson, Mokete Jonase, yesterday said they decided to proceed with the strike because Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro had not communicated the government decision to indefinitely suspend mobile court operations.

“We are going ahead with the strike and we are not stopping,” Mr Jonase said.

“I only heard of the government’s decision to suspend mobile court operations on radio. No formal communication was made to us.”

He said the Ministry of Transport’s principal secretary, Francis Tlhopheho, called them for a meeting on Tuesday afternoon but they informed him that he was not the right person to address them as they were fighting his ministry in court over the introduction of the mobile court.

“He represents the same ministry that we are fighting over this matter. There was a standoff between the ministry and ourselves and we approached the Prime Minister’s office to lodge our complaint.

“We expect the office of the Prime Minister to communicate any decision suspending the mobile court to us. Until the office of the Prime Minister formally communicates government’s decision to us, we will not call off our strike. The objective of our strike is to have government stop the mobile court’s operations because it is abusing us. Instead of targeting illegal taxi operators, it is targeting us. We don’t know why they are targeting us

“Our vehicles are operating legally yet mobile court is always demanding money from us on various pretexts. We have a seven-day scheduled strike. If the Prime minister calls us and communicates his government’s decision to us, we will sit down and review that decision and return to work,” Mr Jonase said.

Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Mosito Moqhekoana, yesterday told this publication that cabinet had resolved to indefinitely suspend the mobile court to allow the ministry of transport and the taxi operators to discuss and resolve operators’ grievances.

“The honourable Prime Minister recently met with transport operators to discuss their grievances. He took the matter to cabinet to allow the executive to have extensive discussions on the grievances raised by transport operators. And yesterday (Tuesday), cabinet took a decision to suspend the operations of the mobile court.

“It further took a decision to establish a four-member sub-committee made up of ministers, Lebohang Monaheng (Public Works), Keketso Sello (Small Business, Marketing and Cooperatives), Nqosa Mahao (Law and Justice) and Transport (Tšoeu Mokeretla) which started its assignment yesterday.

“The four members have been mandated to start discussions with transport operators over issues that they raised. So, the mobile court has been suspended and it will resume its operations after the conclusion of discussions between government and transport operators,” Mr Moqhekoana said.

The strike left thousands of commuters stranded yesterday. Many of them ended up walking long distances from their homes to their workplaces. Factory workers were probably the most affected in Maseru with some leaving their homes as early as 3am in order to meet the 7am timeframe for starting work.

A night guard in one of the Thetsane factories said some factory workers had started reporting for work as early as 4am.

“I was on night duty. I was shocked when workers started arriving at 4am this morning (yesterday). Some of them walked from Qeme (to Ha Thetsane)

“They were visibly exhausted. Some were even dozing off as they waited to start work. This is a serious challenge because it is a battle between the government and the masses,” said the security guard who requested anonymity.

At a nearby factory, the Lesotho Times crew observed some female factory workers who had risked their lives by walking more than 10 kilometers at night to get to work on time.

Several women have been waylaid and murdered by unknown killers in recent months and the strike could contribute to more tragedies if women continue walking long distances to work in darkness.

Female workers who were interviewed all said if the strike persisted, they would rather risk their lives by walking to work than lose the meagre earnings which support their families.

Factory workers earn about M2000 per month.

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