The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has welcomed the closure of six taxi ranks in Soweto operated by two warring taxi associations.

However, the union said it was also worried about the negative impact the closure would have on the economy. 

Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi has vowed that, come Friday morning, six taxi ranks will be closed in Soweto. 

In a statement released on Thursday, Vadi urged Soweto residents and commuters - who regularly use minibus taxis affiliated to Witwatersrand Taxi Association (WATA) and its rival Nancefield-Dube West Taxi Association (Nanduwe) - to use alternative transport such as Metrorail, as well as municipal and provincial buses such as Putco and Rea Vaya.

The shutdown comes after a number of violent incidents between the two associations since the beginning of the year, including the murder of WATA member SB Hadebe, treasurer SM Zwane, and vice-chairperson MT Ngubane in January.

Several minibus taxis were attacked over several days in February in Diepkloof. Armed men prevented taxis from operating on March 1 and, four days later, another attack left six people wounded and 10 vehicles damaged.

Vadi said the ranks would be shut down for three months, from March 15 until June 15.

"It is necessary to shut down their minibus taxi services for the safety of commuters and residents of Soweto. The department is fully aware that the decision taken will inconvenience commuters and residents in affected areas, however, the safety of commuters and residents comes first," he said.

Vadi said he firmly believed that the closure of the ranks was necessary to achieve normality in the area.

Satawu general secretary Jack Mazibuko said Vadi's decision would assist in mitigating the spate of violence between the two associations.

"The union condemns territorial disputes that result in death of people and injury of commuters. We hope that an amicable solution through the current negotiation process will resolve existing violence and tensions of the two associations. As a backbone of the economy, Satawu is equally worried about the negative impact that the closure will have on the township economy in general and working class and poor commuters in particular.

"Adding to their frustrations is the closure of the M2, load shedding and constant rains which contribute to road congestion and other social challenges. Commuters have been most affected by these developments," said Mazibuko. The union believes that, if commuters arrive at work late, it could lead to the violation of their contractual obligations.

"To negate this, they are forced to leave their home an hour or two earlier. Swallowed in darkness and silence in their morning walk, subjects them to a web of violence ranging from mugging to the sexual violation of women. Going home is a similar nightmare they were subjected to in the morning," he said. 

Mazibuko called on government to regulate the taxi industry.

"We further call on government to speed up the process of an integrated public transport system that will be safe, reliable and affordable. The ease of commute allows for access to opportunities ranging from work, education, sport and recreation. "By addressing general transport challenges including the case of Nanduwe and WATA is also one of the most critical factors needed for the rehabilitation exploitative social relations," said Mazibuko.