Corruption, Violence Drive Negative Perceptions of South Africa’s Minibus Taxi Industry

December 4, 2023 · 3 min read

Corruption, Violence Drive Negative Perceptions of South Africa’s Minibus Taxi Industry

The main form of transport for most South Africans – and indeed, large swathes of the African continent – are minibus taxis.  These are typically 16-seater vehicles that drive along preestablished routes. The taxi industry in South Africa is an essential, but controversial, service on which millions of South Africans rely for transportation to work, school, and the conduct of their daily lives.

There are about 250,000 minibus taxis in South Africa and these vehicles account for about 65% of all commuter transport and customers regularly turn to social media to comment on the level of service and other issues affecting the taxi industry. Disruptions to this service have far-reaching consequences for economic activity.

To better assess public sentiment toward the industry and the key drivers of public views of taxi services, VoxCroft collected and analyzed broadcast, online, and social media during the third quarter of 2023. This study revealed that South Africans are largely negative toward the industry with three issues accounting for 59% of negative sentiment: law enforcement, discrimination, and crime. Furthermore, the public tended to associate the taxi industry with violence and corruption, expressing little optimism of improvement soon.

The interplay of these negative sentiment drivers, combined with a generally dim view of industry leaders, has the potential to set the stage for localized instances of ethnic violence, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) where social media users identified racism and xenophobia as issues coloring how the media and government address taxi violence.

Public Frustrated with Malfeasance, Criminality Associated with Taxi Industry

Across all media, public concern over how weaknesses in the taxi industry impacted ordinary people underpinned much of the criticism levied against the taxi industry, suggesting a hyperlocal focus on taxi operations. Many posts across media types highlighted the degree to which innocent South Africans were being caught in the crossfire of powerful factions fighting over revenue.

These posts often alleged that the taxi industry amounted to organized crime syndicates that had connections to government leaders who ignored the violence because of a personal stake in its outcome. Furthermore, users often pointed to police inaction as directly contributing to insecurity for commuters.

These lines of criticism were best illustrated in a spike in negative sentiment toward the taxi industry in early August, when strikes in the taxi industry turned deadly in Cape Town. Posts during and immediately after this period focused on the violence related to the strikes in KZN and Western Cape (WC), criticizing national government inaction and the burden that the strike placed on the shoulders of ordinary South Africans.

Furthermore, the public criticized senior security officials, both for their perceived inability to quell violence during the taxi strikes and for alleged connection to the taxi industry. Some posts connected the two ideas, claiming these officials were choosing to allow the violence because it helped their own business interests in the sector.

Media Coverage of Taxi Strikes Fuels Concerns over Racism, Xenophobia

Perception of government complicity in the corrupt and opaque nature of the taxi industry combined with concerns over racist and xenophobic portrayals of taxi violence in KZN, adding a dangerous social dimension to the national narrative about the taxi industry.

Discussions in KZN were particularly focused on perceived anti-Zulu sentiment related to taxi strikes and the allegedly corrupt involvement of senior security officials in taxi operations there. Users in KZN were sensitive to media coverage of taxi strikes in their province compared with similar strikes in WC, claiming that observers gave logical and sympathetic arguments for WC protests yet dismissed KZN protests as dangerous Zulu nationalism. Many users claimed that the negative coverage of taxi strikes in Zulu-dominated areas tapped into larger anti-Zulu sentiment in South Africa.

The continuous violence in the taxi industry also exposed a xenophobic streak among taxi riders and operators alike, who consistently blamed foreign nationals and at times explicitly approved of taxi violence to prevent “outsiders” from dominating what most users believed should be a South Africa-dominated industry. VoxCroft assesses that this view is more popular among operators and drivers than riders. For example, one post viewed more than 130,000 times claimed that violence was “the only thing [foreigners] fear and deserve” and that, without the violence inherent to the taxi industry, foreigners would take over what should be a South African-dominated sector.

VoxCroft's Hyperlocal Intelligence Reports Enhance Business Decision Making

VoxCroft’s deep dive into the dynamics behind the South African taxi industry and the implications for economic activity in the country showcases how our intelligence reports enable businesses to identify priorities and strategic opportunities.  VoxCroft combines human and machine capabilities to produce nuanced intelligence reports based off publicly available, people-focused data.

Our sentiment models, trend detection and clustering algorithms, and social network analysis revealed influential conversations, as well as key voices and themes in the South African taxi industry.  Our subject-area experts used these insights to paint a holistic picture of the threats and opportunities in the transport sector. Added to this, VoxCroft provides strategic recommendations that help businesses and investors in their decision making.

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