Mandisa Cele was one of a group of high school learners protesting outside the Pietermaritzburg taxi rank on Wednesday, demanding to be left alone to choose their own means of transport.
Learners from schools in the Northdale area said taxi owners were bullying learners into using only taxis. Many learners use private vans or cars driven by "omalume" (uncles) with whom families have contracts.
On Tuesday, uniformed security guards accosted learners and forced them to use taxis. Those who could not pay taxi fares were forced to walk from school in Northdale back to town.
Cele, who is in grade 12, said, "Omalume were forced to leave without us. Some of us had no money for the taxis. We were forced to walk from the school to town. We have a right to use transport that we are comfortable with."
Sabelo Mtshali from Camperdown told GroundUp he felt safer in private transport and it was cheaper. "If I were to use a taxi, I would be taking four taxis daily. With omalume I'm paying R750 a month. A taxi costs R1,000 or more. I live with a granny and I depend on her grant money for transport. She pays the money in instalments with omalume. They have an understanding which is not an option on daily taxi transport."
Thabani Dube, one of the omalume, said he did not understand why taxi owners were fighting with them. "There is no need for a fight. Everyone is doing his or her job in their own space," he said.
Dube drives learners in his van from Imbali, Esigodini and Dambuza.
"Students have missed school today. Students were removed from their transport by the owners. Our cars were not allowed to transport any student," said Dube.
"We are safer in our private transport," said learner Nelile Zondi. "With taxis we are always late ... We get detention or we are sent back home ... We don't want to use taxis. Taxis squash us. With our transport we sit comfortably."
South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) Umgungundlovu region chairperson Bheki Sokhela said the taxi industry wanted to work with the omalume. "All that we want is that they get permits."
He said some taxi owners might have been "impatient" and had not waited. He said he was not aware that security guards had stopped learners from using their transport.
Deputy General Secretary of Equal Education Ntuthuzo Ndzomo said students should be allowed to exercise their right to education.