Project Re­fentse sees rank me­chan­ics go­ing back to school.

Sunday Times - - Motoring - By Bren­win Naidu

There are many over­whelm­ing sta­tis­tics to be cited from the minibus-taxi in­dus­try. For now, we will shy away from the macabre fac­toids and fo­cus on the good it does for the na­tion. Though we are not for a mo­ment doubt­ing that there is work to be done, the cost-ef­fec­tive and ac­ces­si­ble na­ture of the mode gets more than 15 mil­lion South Africans around daily. And then there is the vast busi­ness ecosys­tem to con­sider. It reaches from the ven­dors who sell loose Courtleigh cig­a­rettes at ranks to the in­di­vid­ual op­er­a­tions that clean away ve­hic­u­lar muck with their sponges and buck­ets of soapy wa­ter. And what about the pit per­son­nel of­fer­ing re­pairs in down­time be­tween those frantic route sched­ules?

En­ter Project Re­fentse, a pro­gramme aim­ing to equip young rank tech­ni­cians with a qual­i­fi­ca­tion that could em­power them to take their en­ter­prises to the next level.

Trans­lated lit­er­ally, Re­fentse is Tswana for “we have won”. The ini­tia­tive is con­vened by fi­nanciers SA Taxi and sub­sidiaries, the SA Taxi Foun­da­tion, which is the cor­po­rate so­cial in­vest­ment part of the busi­ness, and Tax­i­mart, which re­fur­bishes and sells minibuses to the sec­ond-hand mar­ket.

About R22 000 has been al­lo­cated per can­di­date, train­ing takes place over a 12week pe­riod cul­mi­nat­ing in a trade test for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. They re­ceive a stipend as well as their own tool­boxes once the course is com­plete.

The pool of 10 re­cruits was cho­sen af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with prom­i­nent taxi as­so­ci­a­tions, which had to pro­pose can­di­dates who had been in the in­dus­try for a min­i­mum of four years, who showed po­ten­tial and were from fi­nan­cially dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds.

“Project Re­fentse is fo­cused on help­ing to for­malise the in­dus­try,” said SA Taxi com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­ec­u­tive Maroba Mad­uma. “Peo­ple fix taxis at the rank, but it’s a ‘watch-anddo’ ap­proach.”

He ex­plained that the in­dus­try would be more suc­cess­ful, with less oner­ous op­er­a­tions, if all stake­hold­ers were bet­ter equipped to play their roles.


“In the case of in­for­mal me­chan­ics pro­vid­ing ser­vices at the ranks, for in­stance, lack of train­ing and ap­pro­pri­ate tools in­hibits their abil­ity to pro­vide a higher-value ser­vice and, there­fore, to earn a steady in­come.”

In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing skills, Mad­uma be­lieves Project Re­fentse will boost road safety by help­ing keep taxis in good shape at a cost that is af­ford­able to op­er­a­tors.

At the train­ing academy in Midrand, Jo­han­nes­burg, the ap­pren­tices are hard at work in a ded­i­cated fa­cil­ity with truly im­pres­sive teach­ing ap­pa­ra­tus. That in­cludes as­sort­ments of func­tion­ing, ac­tual-scale en­gine di­a­grams and a MercedesBenz Sprinter that ap­pears to have been trans­formed into a con­vert­ible.

“The syl­labus is an in­tense one,” ac­cord­ing to Paulus Madalane, the academy head who seems suit­ably avun­cu­lar as he as­sists one of the can­di­dates han­dling a vernier cal­liper.

Mo­jalefa Sakala was run­ning his own busi­ness as a rank tech­ni­cian be­fore join­ing Project Re­fentse. “The the­ory and method­ol­ogy is help­ful, but dif­fi­cult to grasp ini­tially. We are tested twice a week,” said the 28-year-old from Krugers­dorp. “I was for­tu­nate to have been cho­sen — and this will give me what I need to get ahead, maybe even open up an en­tire work­shop of my own.”

Ef­fect­ing change takes time. And 10 new tech­ni­cians is a drop in the ocean given the sheer scale of the in­dus­try. But many will agree that it is a fan­tas­tic start. Maroba Mad­uma as­sures us that there are plans afoot to keep Project Re­fentse run­ning. “This was a pi­lot and our next step is to get part­ners and ad­di­tional fund­ing — we are hop­ing to keep it go­ing for as long as pos­si­ble.” LS

Pic­ture: Waldo Sweigers

Young taxi-rank tech­ni­cians can now get qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

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