PUBLIC transport like many other occupations is generally held in very low regard and seems to receive very little attention and support from the authorities.
While most commuters and motorists may view taxi drivers as nothing more than professional hoot honkers, the Secretary General of the Namibia Transport and Taxi Union (NNTU) Werner Januaries is determined to change that perception as well as their working conditions and turn chaos into order.
The Windhoek Observer caught up with him during the second meeting the NNTU held with its members on Sunday where they expressed concerns about the poor state of the transport system, Namibian roads, and more especially Windhoek’s roads.“Taxi drivers feel that the lack of taxi ranks in Windhoek is the main cause of the chaos on our roads.
“They know that the City of Windhoek wants to turn some streets into one-ways with proper bus stops to accommodate the large conventional busses but taxi drivers feel this will drive them out of business.
“Most of these drivers depend on their jobs to provide for their families. This is the only way for them to put bread on the table and they feel the authorities are taking that away from them.
“It is like cutting their throats off, especially with the harsh traffic fines.
“But the way I see it, making a decision to drive a taxi [as humiliating as it can be for some people] is better than being a vagrant or a criminal.
“Our unemployment rate stands at 51 percent and whether we acknowledge it or not, the transport industry is the strongest pillar of the economy, providing an essential service,” Januaries said.
The average person does not know about you. What are some of your traits?
“I am a quiet, humble and considerate man. From a young age, I have never tolerated bullies and I would always stand up to them. Most people don’t know that because I always stand up for weaker people.
“The NNTU came about as a result of my distaste for bullies and I view the state as bullies towards taxi drivers. That is why I decided to form this union and speak out and represent both taxi and public transporters who do not have a voice,” Januaries said.
“In 1998, I was a taxi driver. I drove mostly for my father and some commuters were arrogant, rude and did not understand that taxi drivers are service providers who also require patience and mutual respect from their customers.
“Today, the transport system has not changed. I have to say that it has worsened because commuters fail to see that there is a face to and human being in every taxi driver,” he said.
What does your work as the spokesperson for the drivers entail?
“Taxi driving is an occupation. I had a conversation with a man in a managerial position a few weeks ago.
“We spoke about taxi drivers at length and he said that he failed to understand why the drivers should have social security benefits, a medical aid scheme, and a pension fund.”
“My question to him was if his children can go to a private hospital or receive medical assistance because they are covered by a medical aid scheme, is a taxi driver’s child not entitled to the same medical assistance?
“Even after reasoning with this man, he still refused to see it in the same light. In other words, he has no regard for taxi driving and according to him the drivers deserve the harsh livelihoods they are currently enduring.
“I am here to change that through the union and I encourage more drivers to join the union.
“At the moment, there are only 230 taxi drivers and 120 members from other companies. My relationship with other drivers is good but the union still has to prove that it can meet their demands and turn their lives around.
“Shortly after we established it in 2010, the union became dormant due to conflicts and problems both internally and outside the union.
“But with a bigger membership and support from public transporters, it is possible to bring about change in the drivers’ lives and the transport system in this country.”
Some people have the perception that taxi drivers are a nuisance and happen to be the main cause of accidents on our public roads. What are your views on that?
“A recent report from Natis indicates that private drivers have more traffic fines than taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are susceptible to making mistakes. They are only human. And now you find private drivers pointing fingers at them.