TOLL cashiers near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal could find themselves counting 5c coins when minibus taxis pass through the plaza on Wednesday, as part of a protest by the industry against the government's taxi recapitalisation programme.

Eugene Hadebe, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Transport Alliance, said the 5c protest would be held at the Tugela toll plaza on the N3 near Ladysmith. He urged taxi drivers to stock up on 5c coins to pay their toll fees.

Taxi owners would also march on KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize's office in Pietermaritzburg to deliver a memorandum of grievances.

Mr Hadebe said they were also dissatisfied with the provincial transport department's administration and issuing of operating licences. Another grievance was the government's decision to recognise the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) as the sole representative of the industry.

He told a meeting of various taxi alliances at Durban's Curries Fountain Stadium that Santaco did not represent his association or others.

Thami Ngcongo, chairmain of Concerned Taxi Operators, said: "They are the only people being recognised by government. They are not leading us. They are taking decisions without our consent."

Earlier on Tuesday, KwaZulu-Natal transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said the provincial government had, as part of an agreement with Santaco, decided to approach the national government in an attempt to get it to delay the implementation of the taxi recapitalisation programme in the province.

Mr Ncalane said this had been agreed at a meeting between the provincial department and Santaco. "We decided that we needed to approach the national Department of Transport to consider a moratorium on implementing the taxi recapitalisation programme, so that we can engage with taxi operators."

The R7,7bn recapitalisation programme was first announced in 1999 and came into effect in October 2006. It was intended to replace the country's ageing minibus taxi fleet with safe, modern vehicles.

In terms of the programme, which was supposed to be introduced in KwaZulu-Natal in September, taxi owners would each be paid R50000 to have a vehicle scrapped. The owner could then use this money to exit the industry or as a deposit on a newer vehicle. At present, the amount paid is R63100 per taxi.

Mr Ncalane said the provincial transport department would ask for an extension of six months to hold talks with taxi operators.

He also dismissed operators' claims that the government wanted to scrap all Siyaya minibus taxis. Originally known as Hi-Aces, these were built by Toyota SA until the end of 2007.

"When government compensates taxi operators they cannot use that money to buy a vehicle that was bought in 2006 and the years before," Mr Ncalane said. "There are certain provisions in the National Transport Act that talk about compliance of vehicles to be deemed roadworthy."

He said delays in issuing operating licences often were a result of taxi owners not providing the correct documentation or obtaining municipal approval for a route.

It was not immediately clear how commuters would be affected. Mr Hadebe and other Curries Fountain stadium speakers urged drivers not to stay away, but rather to take commuters to work before joining the protest in Pietermaritzburg.

N3 Toll Concession spokesman Con Roux said it would have extra staff on duty to help count the coins.

Sapa