By John Ekongo
With the continuous growth of urban migration into Windhoek, a lot of strain has been placed on the infrastructure as well as service providers in the city.
According to the municipality, Windhoek has a population of 230 000 residents.
In the year 2006 alone, approximately 150 000 people were said to be living in Katutura, but the number is rising monthly by 600, according to estimates.
The city is facing an incredible growth of the townships and innumerable shacks are spread along the outskirts of Katutura and in informal areas.
These informal areas are home to almost half of Windhoek’s workforce and represent half of the entire work force in the city.
Many of these residents are blue-collar workers, artisans, domestic workers, mechanics at workshops and garages in the city centre, clerks, construction industry workers and even some white-collar workers.
The struggle to get to work on time every day is a daunting task with many people having to get up as early 5 am in order to catch a ride with pirate taxis whose numbers hav e swelled.
The municipality has in place a municipal bus service, which ferries workers to the centre of town and the outskirts of the metropolis, at a small fee. But this has limitations too. The routes often taken by these buses are still a remnant of the old bus system established some 40 years ago, and does not always cater for the needs of everyone.
This often forces people to find alternate means of transport to and from work. They are tempted to use illegal transport operators to ferry passengers to and from town especially during peak hours.
These unlicensed transporters operate outside the confines of the law and traffic regulations. They overload and traffic breaches are a common occurrence, revealed Max Hipandwa, spokesperson for the Windhoek City Police and Emergency Management Unit.
The operators charge anything between N$3,50 and N$5 per trip. The official taxi fare from the Central Business District to the Havana informal area and other informal areas is double the rate of the standard fee of legal taxi operators. Currently, the legal fee is N$7. After midnight this fee doubles irrespective of the route.
As it is, most customers who stay in the informal areas prefer to utilize pirate taxis which at N$5 are cheap.
Hipandwa says the practise is illegal.
“We normally go and apprehend these operators because they have no proper documentation.” But it appears this is not a deterrent factor, despite constant arrests and warnings.
Windhoek City Police says the commuters who make use of these services are to blame as they encourage the continuation of this practice.
“The public members are the ones aiding and supporting these people, but it is wrong on their part. They (operators) are not allowed to load any passengers, but how do we prevent the public?
“They should refrain from doing this. It is illegal and we will not rest on our laurels. We obviously will arrest them if we find them engaging in these acts,” cautions Hipandwa.
Jafet Nghishetende, owner of one of the estimated 5 000 registered taxis, believes that the illegal operations should simply be done away with.
“The price of petrol is hitting us hard, and these operators are taking our customers away. If anybody wants to operate legally, he must just go through the whole process of getting his fitness certificate, public permit and register like all other operators. We both need to survive, we will have no problem with it,” urged Nghishetende.
The situation is not only unique to local taxi operators. Long-haul taxi operators have for long complained about similar operations between towns by unlicensed operators. This practice is extremely popular on the Windhoek-Okahandja-Otjiwarongo-Windhoek route.
Vice-President of Namibia Buses and Taxi Association (Nabta), Innocent Simasiku, confirmed the illegal operations, saying they have managed to curtail the activities with the help of the police.
“We have been handling this matter with the relevant authorities, and with the help of police to an extent that we have curtailed the situation, especially the ones loading with bakkies,” said Simasiku.
Nabta has solicited the help of the public, who report vehicles operating unofficially to the association and Nabta in turn forwards names of culprits to the appropriate authorities.
Of greater implication is safety. Nabta says they have a trip sheet system available for most of their national routes.
The trip sheet, according to Simasiku, goes a long way in assisting officials especially at roadblocks to authenticate the validity of a vehicle carrying persons, whether or not it is indeed a registered operation.
Also the sheets are meant to inform the next of kin in the case of a motor vehicle accident.
Conversely, any long-haul commuter bus operating without a trip sheet is likely to be illegal.
The same however cannot be said for taxi operators in town.
Nabta admits that the problem in town is multifaceted. “Sometimes it is the brothers of someone or someone we know, but yet we don’t report them,” said Simasiku.
Nabta believes the only way for this practice to be curbed is for the public to cooperate with the association and the police.
“If you find someone doing this, note down the details and pass it on to the authorities or our offices,” urges Simasiku.