Business

SA farmers ‘held to ransom’ by taxi operators transporting workers

Thousands of farmworkers could be left stranded if an alleged extortion and racketeering scheme by taxi operators continues.

Farmers in the Joostenbergvlakte area and surrounds have raised the alarm and say they are being extorted when transporting their workers to and from work.

Several other businesses, including private and scholar transport, have also been affected.

Wine farmer Jaco Lourens said they offer transport to their workers as a benefit because most of the farms are in rural areas.

“It would be inhumane of us to expect people to walk 15km to and from work every day, but, at this rate, we just may have to cancel the service, and that would affect both us and our employees because some would stop coming to work and we would have to stop production,” he said.

Farmers now fear they may have to suspend the service that aids more than 1 000 farmworkers, resulting in their employees finding it difficult to travel to work, and many job losses.

He added the action by taxi operators has accelerated over the past few days, but there has been little to no assistance from the police.

“We tried laying charges with the police but to no avail. Our drivers are afraid of going to the police station because they live with these people in the community, so they fear retaliation.

“We are not able to lay formal charges because we were not the ones driving the vehicles. Law enforcement officers tried to assist us with the matter because we tried to report to them as well, but the police have to investigate and they just won’t,” said Lourens.

Fellow wine farm owner Tyrrel Myburgh said he reported taxi operators gathered at an open field near the Elsenburg Road to the police after suspecting acts of extortion.

“My vehicle has not been stopped, but I have witnessed taxi operators pulling bakkies, trucks and vans off the road, demanding a fee for use of what they consider to be their taxi route,” he said.

Farmers said the actions by the taxi operators were a way to make a quick buck.

A transport driver, who asked not to be named, said that the taxi operators are known to him in the Bloekombos area.

“This has been ongoing for years. Last year and the year before, we had to pay an annual fee of R500 in order to transport people to and from work.

“The reason they charge us this fee is because they say we are taking money out of their pockets as these people could be taking taxis to travel,” he said. The driver also explained that in order to transport staff, vehicles had to register at the Bloekombos taxi rank.

“This allows them a free pass for the year starting from January. If you are caught mid-year, then the R500 is for the remainder of the year up until December,” he said.

The Klapmuts Neighbourhood Watch said the taxi problem started on the corner of R101 and Muldersvlei road (De Meye wine farm).

“It was reported to local SAPS. They (have) moved over to Koelenhof and pulled over Klein Simonsvlei’s truck with employees, and took the truck with its driver into Bloekombos. Again, SAPS not being able to help because they were busy at an accident,” the neighbourhood watch said.

Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) spokesperson Andile Siyamo confirmed that “all vehicles operating in taxi-operated routes either need to report operations or pay operational fees. Only Golden Arrow, Metrorail and the taxi service is allowed to operate during the day, after hours, then people may transport their staff freely. Even scholar transports need to report to us before they operate,” he said.

Those who don’t pay the fine have their vehicles kept at the taxi rank until they pay up.

Law Enforcement spokesperson, Wayne Dyason, said they could only act once a complaint was received.

“Department can only act if they respond to the complain and find something happening on scene. If nothing, then the matter has to be referred to the South African Police Service as the City’s enforcement services do not have a mandate to conduct investigations.”

Police spokesperson, FC van Wyk said: “No cases relating to extortion was opened at the Kraaifontein (police station). Kraaifontein police have, however, been made aware of related incidents that might have occurred within the Bloekombos area.”

Weekend Argus

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