WE ARE WINNING
Project Refentse sees rank mechanics going back to school.
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.
I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE CHOSEN — THIS WILL GIVE ME WHAT I NEED
“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
Young taxi-rank technicians can now get qualifications.
Getting the fix in