Thousands of commuters across Gauteng were left stranded after mini-bus taxis of The South African National Taxi Association (Santaco) embarked on protest action by blocking major highways between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The protest follows the collapse of negotiations between the taxi association and South African Taxi Finance Holdings over the cost of Toyota Quantum vehicles.
"Some members of the taxi industry have been hard hit by the high interest rate of 28% and the R15,000 per month payment. We can't take it anymore. There will be no taxis running and we advise commuters to seek alternative transport," said the spokesperson for Santaco Gauteng Ralph Jones.
National highways including the N1, N3 and N12 were blocked as well as secondary roads that could have been used as alternatives. In the south of Johannesburg, there almost no taxis operating. The N1 at the Grasmere toll as well as sections of the Golden Highway were cut off to traffic. Commuters were left stranded on the side of the road.
Jeremy Xaba from Finetown was worried about missing a day of work and was searching for an alternative way to get to Johannesburg. "I am doing small work on construction, but you know if you don't pitch for work you do not get paid. So I'm going to lose out on a day's wages if I can't get to Jo'burg," said Xaba.
Other commuters were seen walking towards the highway in the hope of getting lifts from passing motorists, while many gave up and headed back home.
Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said: "Quite a few trucks were hijacked and keys were stolen for the purpose of blocking the highway. This happened by the Allandale off-ramp'" said Minnaar.
The bus services for the Gautrain were also suspended because of taxis blocking the entrances to stations and employees unable to reach their workstations.
The Gauteng Department of Education also urged parents to keep their children home for their safety, and said it had told principals to give children who could not make exams today another opportunity. Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi said that no child would be penalised for not making it to school.
The University of South Africa (UNISA) said it was aware that some students were unable to reach their exam venues on time and students would be allowed to apply to defer their exams.
SAPS Gauteng spokesperson Kay Makhubela said that the police impounded 18 taxis that were blocking the highway on the N1 near Allandale.
The Santaco leadership said it would be mobilising drivers on a march to the SA Taxi Finance offices in Midland today, where a memorandum would be given to the directors citing its grievances.