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Taxi owners call off nationwide strike

Pascalinah Kabi

TAXI operators have called off their nationwide strike aimed at forcing the government to withdraw the mobile traffic court which they say has eroded their revenue through exorbitant spot fines for traffic offences.

The strike, which began on Wednesday, was 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 was meant to last seven days but it was called off on Thursday after the taxi owners met with a six-member inter-ministerial committee and agreed to give negotiations between the two parties a chance to solve the impasse.

Announcing the suspension of the strike on Thursday, Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao said it had been suspended following negotiations between government and the transport operators.

“Government hereby confirms that it has suspended operations of the mobile traffic court until negotiations between the government and transport operators have been concluded,” Prof Mahao said in a statement on Thursday.

“Secondly, the transport operators have taken a decision to suspend their strike until negotiations are concluded.

“Cabinet advised itself to establish a sub-committee made of six ministers namely Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety), Tšoeu Mokeretla (Transport), Lebohang Monaheng (Public Works), Keketso Sello (Small Business, Marketing and Cooperatives), Lepota Sekola (Deputy Minister of Water Affairs) and I, Nqosa Mahao, on Tuesday. This after receiving a report that public transport operators were planning to withdraw their services to the people on Wednesday.

“The mandate of that sub-committee was to have a meeting with representatives of transport operators to discuss their grievances, hoping that successful talks would lead to the suspension of the strike. It was only today (Thursday) that representatives of the two sides met and discussed issues. This is a temporary settlement between government and transport operators,” Prof Mahao added.

Although the strike lasted just a day, it was a day full of drama as police officers faced off with rowdy taxi operators who intercepted their colleagues who were transporting commuters in defiance of the industrial action.

Those who transported commuters found the roads blocked by their colleagues in different parts of the country and this caused the police to intervene. All in all, 10 taxi operators were arrested in various districts.

A Teyateyaneng, Berea taxi conductor is even fighting for his life at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) in Maseru after being shot in the waist by police on Wednesday.

This after a confrontation between Teyateyaneng police officers and taxi operators over the strike which left thousands of commuters stranded countrywide.

According to MRTO chairperson, Mokete Jonase, the conductor was shot by the police after defying their orders for him and his colleagues to leave a taxi rank in Teyateyaneng.

“They were just sitting and chatting when police officers told them to leave the rank. They indicated that they were not going anywhere as they were at their work station. An officer was angered by that response and shot him in the waist. He is fighting for his life at Tšepong (QMMH),” Mr Jonase said on Friday.

Another representative of the taxi operators, Mathe Khalane, said they had also demanded the release of their colleagues who were arrested on Wednesday by the police.

“The most important decision which has not been captured in the (Mahao) statement relating to these negotiations is that our arrested members must be released. That is a serious matter and it featured highly in the discussions as one of our conditions for suspending the strike. One of our members was shot in Teyateyaneng and is in a critical condition. These issues must be dealt with,” Mr Khalane said.

Prof Mahao later confirmed that the issue of taxi operators’ arrest was raised in their meeting with the taxi owners.

“Since this is a matter concerning the implementation of the law, the minister of police (Senauoane) needs to discuss it with the police and thereafter, we will have a response for the transport operators,” he said.

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