Taxi operators worry over stay-away impact

MASERU — Taxi operators are worried the stay-away called by the opposition might not only cost them thousands of maloti in revenue but their vehicles as well should it turn violent.

Yesterday the Maseru Regional Transport Operators (MRTO) was making frantic efforts to have the indefinite stay-away, scheduled to start on Monday, shelved.

MRTO spokesman Lebohang Moea said the association had contacted the government and the opposition to get them “to calm down and sit down and talk about their differences”.

Moea said they were worried about the impact of the stay-away on their businesses. 

“We want the government and opposition to talk about this issue. A stay-away is not the best way forward,” Moea said.

He said the association was worried about the security of their vehicles, should the stay-away turn violent as is normally the case.

“We are very worried about the amount of business that we will lose. We are worried that our vehicles will be destroyed. We are already in trouble as an industry and we cannot afford to have such disturbances.”

He said the biggest loser of the political protest will be the business community as they will be left to deal with losses.

“These politicians are all members of parliament. They will get their salaries at the end of the month whether they go to work or not. Business people will not get anything if they don’t work. We are the losers.”

“We the taxi operators will have to count our losses. No one will pay our bills because we parked our vehicles during the strike. We will suffer.”

Moea however said their push for negotiations should not be seen as timidity.

“We want them to talk but whoever chooses to be hot-headed will suffer because we will take the other side. We want them to deal with this issue for the greater good of the people.”

“A strike is not a joke. Its impact is extremely huge on business and the people’s lives.”

But some rank and file members the association say they will participate in the strike.

Operators who spoke to the Lesotho Times last night said they will park their taxis during the stay-away but they will take to the streets if the government dares to release its buses to ferry workers as it has done during previous protests. 

“We will make sure that all taxis are parked. If we see anyone moving around, we will beat the driver and passengers in such cars,” said one taxi operator from Mazenod.

“We are supporting the opposition all the way in this stay-away. We will use power if we have to. People who decide to ignore the call will get hurt,” said some taxi operators.

Source in the sector said banks have already warned taxi operators who bought their vehicles through their loans to park them during the stay-away because insurers are reluctant to compensate for cars damaged during national protests.

The government has warned taxi owners against participating in the stay-away.

Government spokesperson Mothetjoa Metsing said the government will release its buses to ferry commuters if taxi operators participate in the stay-away.

He however said he was doubtful that the transport industry will play an active role in the stay-away.

“Taxi owners’ wish is for the government and the opposition to sit down and resolve their problems amicably. So the expectation is that they will let their taxis do their day-to-day work,” Metsing said.

He said if they participated, the taxi owners would be contravening their agreement with the government that they will remain neutral in political clashes.  

Metsing said the agreement was that the government limits the number of state buses from roads in order for taxi owners to refrain from politics.

“I am convinced taxi owners do not want to be drawn into politics,” Metsing said.

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