The Soul City Institute recently hosted a panel discussion to explore ways of making taxi travel safer for women.
An urgent and effective government response coupled with action by civil society and South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) was identified as the strategy that will lead to safer transport commuting for women.
Speaking at the #safeTaxi panel discussion, Lebo Ramafoko the CEO of Soul City Institute said that the discussion was in response to the massive public outcry following a horrific taxi rape incident in which a mother was held for four hours in a taxi while she was raped and robbed in front of her 10-year-old son who was made to lie facedown during the ongoing drama.
Abused in taxis
The case, which happened on a Sunday afternoon in March, sparked the reporting of many other similar attacks, some dating back to last year.
“What was most alarming is that so many women came forward afterwards, reporting similar experiences of being abused in the taxis,” said Ramafoko.
“Yet when you enter a taxi you are a commuter. You expect that you will reach your destination safely and do not worry about being raped or mugged.”
Participants at the discussion challenged the South African National taxi Council (SANTACO) to come up with immediate solutions and explain why there was no security in place at taxi ranks.
Bafana Magagula, SANTACO’s Chief Strategic Manager, admitted that there are serious problems in the taxi industry. One of the barriers they face in taking effective action is that the organisation is not recognised by government as a legal entity.
This prevents them from taking some of the suggested security measures needed to prevent crime and gender-based violence.
“If an association employs security guards and puts them at the taxi ranks, that association is arrested in South Africa.”
Magagula added that even if they employed a licensed security company, government would take action against them.
One of the barriers they face in taking effective action is that the organisation is not recognised by government as a legal entity.
“We have tested it and they said it is illegal to have security guards at the taxi ranks,” said Magagula.
According to Magagula the taxi industry is advocating with government to change this. SANTACO has an academy that trains taxi drivers in customer care that was supposed to be funded by government, but this has not happened. This is also why the academy has not moved beyond one province.
Magagula said it was not known whether the men arrested for the brutal rape that caused the massive outcry were still in custody or not.
Makatlego Mapotlane to from the Soweto Women’s Forum said “As black women we are tired, we are angry, we want to end this and we are going to do it ourselves.”
Mapotlane added that even when women report rape cases at police stations they are often further abused by the police who ask unnecessary questions.
Nokuphumla Dineka of Gauteng Community Safety explained that the department had programmes such as the Green Door Project where rape victims were protected when reporting sexual crimes. She also stated that women are expected to go to a police station and be assisted through a victim empowerment programme.
The Soul City Institute for Social Justice convened the panel to bring key stakeholders together to support solutions to gender based violence in the taxi industry. It is calling for concrete interventions with the taxi industry involved including a National safe taxi charter for the taxi industry.
Soul City Advocacy Manager Matokgo Makutoane said “No woman should be raped. It doesn’t matter whether she’s wearing a mini skirt or travelling at midnight.”
She said communities needed to fight against taxi attacks and government should take urgent action.
An edited version of this story appeared in The Star.