Cape Town Taxi Strikes: Impact on the Coffee Community

Thursday, 10 August, 2023

Words by Ayanda Dlamini

Eerie images of closed cafes in a deserted CT CBD by Fikile Dlamini

The usually vibrant and energetic CBD of Cape Town came to a standstill over the last week, as taxi drivers across the city are on strike because of law enforcement disputes. Affecting not only the transportation industry but also another integral part of Cape Town's culture - its vibrant coffee community.

This week, it only feels right to shed some light on the taxi strikes that have been happening in the Western Cape and the impact it's having on our beloved coffee community.

In an attempt to gain concession, the strikes became threatening, causing significant disruptions to the transportation system, making it harder for our local baristas, café owners, and coffee enthusiasts to access their beloved coffee shops. As a result, Cape Town’s spirited coffee culture felt the effects. And even though on Thursday night Santaco eventually called an end to the strike, there is going to be a recovery period, both emotionally and financially.

Image published on Daily Maverick, see unfolding story here. Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach

I began to search for someone who would be open to sharing their experience in Cape Town at the moment, a person who has witnessed the effects it’s had on the businesses and the Cape Town community. I was fortunate enough to get inside details from Zola Mnguni (Seattle Coffee Company, Head Trainer) who generously shared a lot of detail on what life is like in Cape Town at the moment: 

How have the strikes affected coffee shops in CPT: 

"At the moment the strikes have impacted trading hours. Some Cafes are closed and others are not trading in normal hours, so it’s obviously affecting our sales, and because transport isn’t accessible to everyone we are short staffed. There are lots of people still stuck at home. This has been going on since last Thursday. We are fortunate that our company was able to allocate some Baristas in nearby accommodation and B&Bs, so that they can be close to stores. Where it’s easier to walk to the store, instead of having to travel from townships and risking their lives everyday on their way to work."

How have the strikes affected how you get to work everyday? 

"It’s really affected me. I’ve been at home since Thursday 3rd August. Thursday was the day we had heard the strikes were going to start, so we got sent home early and we were fortunate to get a bus and get home safely. Other people were not so fortunate, having to walk home, or couldn’t get home so they had to sleep at a friends or colleagues place, it’s been hectic. I haven’t been able to go to work because there are no buses where I stay (Philiphi, Brown’s Farm), and Ubers don’t come this side. Where I stay, malls have also closed because people have started looting, malls are being burned down and schools being burnt down. So it’s been really really frustrating and scary. I’m glad that I’m at home and safe. On the other hand, there’s more frustration around when the strike is going to end, I’m just stuck at home - I can’t go to work, I can’t go to the mall to buy more groceries. I can’t go to a local store or a spaza shop. Even some spaza shops are running out of bread because bakeries are also not functioning, to be able to provide shops with bread. People are scared." 

What does the emotional atmosphere feel like in Cape Town at the moment ? 

"Where I live it’s normal to hear gunshots every day, it’s scary and emotionally draining. The atmosphere where I stay is not great. Everyone is home, people are stuck. Some people are still trying to walk to work, because they are afraid to lose their jobs, so they’re still risking it and trying their best to get transportation. Every now and then, you’re hearing that someone has been killed, or their car has been burnt down, or someone is in hospital. It’s really not great, people are worried about their jobs, people are worried that they won’t have enough money by the end of the month, to be able to support their families. In the Township, people are frustrated and are running out of food. Even people that are able to get to work, who manage to stay in places close to work, they are still scared. Most of them have families at home (townships) and they can’t go home to them, they’re in a position of relying on other people or neighbours to take care of their families back home. Hopefully things are coming to an end and we can go back to our lives soon."

Now, more than ever, it has become crucial for us to show our support for the coffee community in Cape Town. Being patient with your favourite local coffee spots, as they face difficulties in efforts to serve you and above all, to keep their team members safe. Being mindful of the difficulties our favourite baristas face trying to get to work. Hospitality is a business that survives on day to day cash flow and though its difficult to believe, some independent cafes do not have the reserves to come back from a disruption like this, the knock on effect will be devastating. To all our Cape Town Cafes that we know and love, please know our thoughts and support are with you all during this demanding time. Take care of each other.

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