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Taxi operators warned over stay-away


taxisBongiwe Zihlangu

If all taxi operators heed this week’s stay-away that has been organised by opposition political parties, government would retaliate by introducing “stern measures to avert unnecessary inconveniences and the resultant threat to investor-confidence”, says Public Works and Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla.

Mr Mokeretla told the Sunday Express yesterday that although government, through Deputy Transport Minister Mokhele Moletsane, engaged Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) members on Friday to discourage them from taking part in the two-day protests which begin tomorrow, any action which threatens the country’s jobs and reputation would not be tolerated.

Elaborating on the measures government would take against taxi-owners should they decide to take their vehicles off the road on the days in question, Mr  Mokeretla said: “If, and only if, they join the stay-away, will we introduce our own fleet and also issue permits to taxi-owners whose cars are currently grounded because they don’t have the required permission to work. We will also invite foreign public transport operators to come and assist by issuing them with temporary permits.

“We will beef-up security to ensure people’s property is not vandalised. Believe me when I say we would not want to take that route, but we will be left with no choice if they join the protests.

“We will be bound by circumstances to introduce our own fleet to avert unnecessary inconveniences. We want for Basotho to work hard and generate a healthy income in their own country.”

According to the transport minister, government wants people to reach their workplaces to secure their jobs and also ensure investors do not lose confidence in Lesotho.

“We will we apply these measures to ensure people’s jobs are not threatened and that investors don’t lose confidence in our country. It is not a trivial matter as some people might want to make it appear,” Minister Mokeretla said.

“For one, the textile industry has previously suffered repercussions of such protests, losing out on business as a result of workers not turning up.

“What do you think investors will do if people don’t come to work? They will most certainly leave because absence from work under such circumstances denotes instability. They will simply pack and go. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Regarding Friday’s meeting, Mr Mokeretla said he was informed by his deputy that the operators had promised not to partake in the stay-away “to give talks a chance”. The meeting came a day after taxi bosses declared they would join the protests due to government’s “reluctance” to intervene in their dispute with South African taxi-operators, which culminated in violence and the arrest of some of their members on Thursday. The dispute had also seen MRTO members blocking the Maseru border post for the better part of Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to force government into helping them resolve the issue.

“The deputy minister reported to me that he engaged the taxi-owners and that they promised not to take part in the strike, but instead, would meet with us for talks on Monday,” Mr Mokeretla said.

“At least they have realised that a stay-away is not the solution. On Monday (tomorrow), we need to sit down and have frank talks, where we will hit each other with facts but ultimately strive towards finding a lasting solution to our problems.”

According to Mr Mokeretla, had it not been for South Africa’s delay in responding to the government of Lesotho’s request for a meeting to resolve the cross-border taxi crisis, “they would not even be considering joining the protests”.

He added: “They believe we are dragging our feet in helping resolve their cross-border problems but that is not the case at all. The government of South Africa has not indicated whether or not it will accept our invitation to meet and find solutions to our problems.

“I have told the taxi-operators that because we need that meeting with South Africa, we have to be patient while gradually negotiating towards a lasting solution. As things stand, we cannot afford to be stubborn; we have to wait for a response from (South Africa) Transport Minister Dipuo Peters to tell us whether or not she will meet with us.

“If she doesn’t, then we’ll be left with no choice but to table our concerns at next month’s SADC (Southern African Development Community) summit in Botswana. Until then, we need to be patient.”

The minister further maintained it would be unfair for the taxi-operators to join the protests because “it is all politically motivated”.

“The stay-away is motivated by politics. It is therefore unfair to expect taxi-operators to participate because the owners support different political parties, meaning it would lead to the exploitation of those who don’t support the strike,” Minister Mokeretla said.

“If people want to fight and advance their political agendas, it is well and good. But they must take to the streets instead of resorting to behaviour that could harm our economy.”

Contacted for comment yesterday, Deputy Minister Moletsane admitted meeting with the taxi-operators but asked the Sunday Express to “seek their side of the story first”.

On his part, MRTO spokesperson Lebohang Moea confirmed to the Sunday Express that they met with Deputy Minister Moletsane but never made any promises.

“We did not make any promises to anyone, but that doesn’t mean we are not open to talks. We will go to the talks on Monday even if the stay-away goes ahead,” Mr Moea said.

“We are not the organisers of the stay-away; we were only invited to support it. It is up to individual taxi-owners to decide whether or not to join the strike.

“We simply said because protests come with risk of vandalism to property, which is not covered by insurance, it is up to each owner to decide whether or not to work. But whether the stay-away continues or not is not up to us but its organisers.”

Meanwhile, this week’s stay-way has been organised by the country’s three main opposition parties, namely the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

It seeks to pressure government into ensuring there is stability in Lesotho and that opposition leaders—Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the ABC, BNP and RCL respectively— who fled to South Africa in May this year fearing for their lives, return to Lesotho in safety.


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