Mandy Wiener10 August 2023 | 10:00

MANDY WIENER: The law is the law in Republic of Cape Town – 'if' it is the law

Cape Town is not bending in the face of the taxi industry as so many other cities and the national government have done.

MANDY WIENER: The law is the law in Republic of Cape Town – 'if' it is the law

Firefighters extinguished a bus that was set alight in Cape Town on 7 August 2023. The bus was one of four that were torched on the day in violence linked to a taxi strike. Picture: @CityofCT/Twitter


As I ran the gauntlet of driving up and down the N2 between the Cape Town CBD and Somerset West this week, I thought about the quip from a colleague about how the taxi strike is all-consuming in “The Republic of Cape Town”.

Cape Town can feel like a country of its own. Run by the opposition party the Democratic Alliance, there is a different approach and efficiency to that of the ANC-led national government.

Whilst no means an advocate for CAPEXIT, there is a sense of the parochial nature of the administration and the arguments for devolution of the police and the railways amongst other services.

But the disconnect between provincial and national government became starkly apparent this week when the province was crippled by a taxi strike in response to the Western Cape government’s approach to the impounding of taxis.

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga launched a tirade against city officials, slamming their ‘arrogance’ and accusing them of creating by-laws with no legal standing aimed at specifically targeting the taxi industry and impounding their vehicles.

“We have national laws in place that govern the infringements and penalties dealt with in the contested conditions of operating licences. The national laws are in place to ensure that fair rules are applicable to all citizens irrespective of the city or province they reside in. It can never be that a city will define itself outside the parameters of national laws and implement penalties that are out of sync with these laws,” argued Minister Chikunga.

There is evidently no love lost between the national minister and the DA city officials.

“Our efforts to regulate the taxi industry must be underpinned by mutual respect of the law and a genuine effort to uplift this industry and ensure that it assumes its place in the broader public transport industry, characterised by respect for the law and the rights of others,” she said.

In response, the City insisted that all taxis impounded in Cape Town were for "offences under the National Land Transport Act [NLTA]. Not a single taxi is impounded under the City's by-laws as falsely claimed by the minister.

"Rather than 'defining itself outside of national laws' as claimed by the minister, Cape Town will continue to stand out as an example of a city actually implementing the national laws of the land.”

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has received a fair amount of praise for taking a principled stand on the implementation of the law and refusing to kowtow to “the taxi mafia”, as he refers to it.

The argument from the Mayor and the City is that the law is the law, and the law enforcement officials are going to enforce the law. They insist they are applying the national law and not by-laws as the minister claims.

The problem is that the national minister says the law is not lawful. So, it’s not the law. But they are actually by-laws created by the city.

Make sense?

Is this an argument that the Republic of Cape Town is freewheeling and “arrogantly” devolving itself from national government? That’s certainly what the Minister seems to be suggesting.

Or rather, is it a case of a government authority demonstrating what it looks like to be a stickler for the rules and ensuring there is law and order in society?

This approach to governance may be a novelty in South Africa. But it’s not necessarily unique across the globe. Think of former New York mayor (and now shamed Trump co-conspirator) Rudy Giuliani’s much-lauded “Broken Windows Policy”.

The city of Cape Town is not bending in the face of the taxi industry as so many other cities and the national government have done. It is arguing laws have to be enforced and no industry should be exempt from that.

If the Minister and Santaco believe that the law is not in fact the law, then it should turn to the country’s courts to confirm that instead of resorting to acerbic, politically driven tirades to make their case.