Category: Just Transport and Dignity

#217 Good quality policies, planning and wealth creation: a roadmap for the taxi industry

It is time to shift the policy discourse around the taxi strike from money to wealth– genuine empowerment. This needs the right kind of policy infrastructure, not plan-as-we-go.

Spinning with ideas the hubcap pauses over a speedhump, one of many through Unit 2, here in Mahikeng. Walking out toward the outline, the main road, where few humps pollute the tarmac, but potholes sure do plague their plight. On rare occasions do trucks pass through the neighbourhood, only if there is a truck load of furniture destined here. But the town centre suffers from indented roads tattooed with tired trucks’ heaviness pleading for better quality road infrastructure. Yet, the trucks and cars still roll, as much as the pedestrians pave their path between the neighbour’s grass beyond her fence and the tattered road dribbled with fading roadway space—and sand for sidewalks. Policy infrastructure is quite similar to this experience. 

Policy infrastructure represents the basis upon which decisions are made, actions are taken and statements are formulated. Much of the discourse is within the ambit of available policies, whether a detailed understanding of them exists or not. The point is that the basic road is tarred, whether it is durable, or if it has sidewalks, or if it is appropriate for the type of area in question is besides the point. What matters is that the basis is present, dominant and popular. 

Either way, the notion of scarcity is what holds this conversation hostage, and unfortunately commuters, operators and the ministry pay for it. 

I read Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth by mistake as an undergraduate student, bought a copy when I finally could, and tormented it with notes on end. Lately, the text haunts me: as if Frantz’s voice floats through this small room, and typewriter’s letters echo as the bounce against the wall every time his wife strikes a chord. The basis upon which he translates the African condition is crucial both psychiatrically and politically: these are deeply interrelated. Policies seem to reflect a dominant doctrine, the stereotype played over and over again on radio, television and beaming at first glance of any screen of headlines. The point is to bring our attention to a screeching halt to catch a policy statement, a battlefield. To touch the hubcap while it spins, like dogs chase spinning wheels in fascination. 

Fanon reveals the depth of the class struggle hidden between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and in Africa, the bourgeoisie is not only middle-class, educated and bubbling with the potential to own the means of production. He describes them as the class that may either pursue a political agenda, replacing only the regime while retaining the system; or distributing their wealth in knowledge to create an inclusive environment that is mutually beneficial to the collective well-being. A policy choice, subject to doctrine, or moral standing—but exhaustion crippled the rise of Egypt, it chains African Americans, it hangs at the widening waists of the emerging middle-class in Africa too. Lions on the Move, a few years ago, now it appears as if the lion pretends to forget itself, distracted by the noise—loosing its poise for triumph. 

Class, race and politics clash in what one could call a taxi strike, but they’re not striking gold. It is the interwoven nature of policy decisions to their days since Omar, negotiating a new industry, till now Mbalula proposing the not so new ‘formalisation’. The battle ground is barely fertile for any seeds to grow, let alone fruits to flourish because the policy foundation seems neglected, history untold, value empathized and costs priced. While for the state their relief is a statement of generosity, for some structures it’s “a slap in the face”. Symptoms of exhaustion, reaching for what little is left. Commuters. There is much to untangle about the evolving struggle for recognition, but anyone who deals in people can smell genuine commitment. 

You know, the kind of roads that last years, with sidewalks, shelter and shade—with a maintenance plan and a team dedicated to caring for the garden that surrounds the streetway. I see this in the suburbs, townships have to do it themselves—put themselves on a shelf, worthy of display. In the same sense the policy discourse right now, is disempowered, lacking substance on both ends—‘money’, ‘budget’, ‘if you don’t comply step down’, ‘stop protesting immediately’. The class-spirits emerge here, unempowered operators who are financially trapped, strapped and dependent on a single stream of income; captive commuters without any viable transport alternative; and a state with an approach to such issues that does not resonate with the stakeholders. This pyramid scheme collapses when players loose the track of the game, forget the long road ahead, and neglect the need to reconcile. 

I do wish, sometimes, that Biko’s words would form bricks and lay generous foundations for the kind of policy infrastructure we need here. His persistent reflections of his time, resonate with Can Themba’s reflections then too—a mobility and access environment that fails many of which do not own the private car’s prison. But there are other writers, and thinkers who’s bricks should form part of the policy narrative here, in our beloved country in long dried tears. It is time to untangle the debate, remove it far from money and toward wealth. Money, evaporates, but wealth with the right policy climate is as good as a waterfall from top-down, or a spring from the bottom-up. Either way, the notion of scarcity is what holds this conversation hostage, and unfortunately commuters, operators and the ministry pay for it. 

Thank you for reading this piece, more to follow. Find me on Twitter @oh_mokwena