People say that most Taxi (or Kombi in Zimbabwe) drivers behave as if they are born from the same family
By Dr Eddie Mahembe
For those who have travelled in Africa – you would agree that most African cities are generally the same. Some have remarked that most Taxi (or Kombi in Zimbabwe) drivers behave as if they are born from the same family.
I have found similar characteristics in the few African cities I have visited or stayed in such as Maputo (Mozambique), Lagos (Nigeria), Francistown (Botswana) and the cities in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Generally, taxi drivers are always in a rush, disregard traffic rules, treat their passengers rudely, are sometimes associated with road rage and/or accidents, etc.
From my limited knowledge, I think the taxi drivers in Lagos and Johannesburg (Jozi) take the trophy in displaying the true characteristics of a typical ‘taxi driver’. I’m not sure which of these two cities have worse taxi drivers.
If you are a taxi user, you would know that there are some unwritten rules which apply the moment you get inside the taxi.
In Zimbabwe, one of the key rules is that a passenger cannot complain that the taxi is full.
If the whindi says ‘garisanai vabereki’ (share the seats parents), you would know that he wants you to squeeze each into other so that he can slot in another passenger.
However, these rules are not the same from country to country. For example, in Zimbabwe the conductor will collect money from every passenger and pockets it. Possibly because the conductor works for the same ‘company’ with the driver.
I realised that this is completely different from the arrangements in South Africa. South African taxis travel with only one ‘worker’: the driver.
The passengers organise themselves and pay the driver the total amount for the trip. Sometimes the driver is not involved at all, only occasionally coming in – in the event that someone has a higher denomination and needs change.
The driver can also come in if there is a dispute, possibly because someone has refused to pay.
Another key unwritten rule in the South Africa taxi journey is that if you take the front seat, you automatically assume the role of the conductor or money collector.
This means that your numeracy skills will be called into action, for the benefit of all the passenger and ultimately the driver.
You will have to be really fast in receiving money and mentally calculating the change before the first passenger disembarks.
One day I struggled with calculating change on a R7 trip per person, and I ended up questioning my distinction in Advanced Level Mathematics.
Anyway, this is not the story for today.
I think it was the second week of our stay in South Africa, from Zimbabwe. My wife was 7 months pregnant with our first born daughter. We had visited Johannesburg town for some business which needed her signature.
When we were done, she was naturally hungry and tired of standing. To solve the two challenges simultaneously, we decided to buy some food and then straight away board a taxi to Cosmo City – where we were staying.
Luckily, we did not even had to go to the taxi rank as the taxis stopped where we were. We were part of the first passengers and the driver instructed us to go to the back seat. While we were still trying to get ourselves comfortable, the driver was already in flight, hooting excessively, while looking for clients.
By the time we were comfortable and able to take out our plastic bag containing the food, the taxi was already full and we were about to leave the world-class African city. We began to eat.
Unbeknown to us, one of the unwritten rules in a South African taxi is that you are NOT supposed to eat inside. What made the situation worse is that while the driver and other passengers were trying to warn us to stop eating, they were speaking the Jozi version of Zulu, which was very different from the Zimbabwean Ndebele. There was a total breakdown of communication.
Before we could tell what was happening, the driver abruptly stopped the taxi and asked us to disembark. We were shocked.
In Zimbabwe, many people enjoy eating in taxis (kombis) and buses. In fact, some wait until they are inside the busy and then put their heads outside the window calling out vendors to sell them foodstuffs for the journey.
We tried to negotiate with the driver and fellow passengers, but it seems no one was willing to even hear our pleas in English. Realising that English could have been a barrier, I tried my broken Ndebele, but it was too late.
The driver was now angry and restless. He turned towards us, his sharp red eyes seemed to tell us that he didn’t have time and with a menacing voice, he commanded us to come out of ‘his taxi’.
Being a naturally caring husband, I helped my wife out. Our money was thrown at our feet.
The taxi left as abruptly as it had stopped. We were left speechless and perplexed. Was eating worthy of this ill-treatment?
Welcome to Johannesburg.
This article is part of a series from my upcoming Autobiography (Book) by Dr Eddie Mahembe titled ‘Hope, Perceive, realise. The Sunday Express will run selected chapters in the coming weeks in the run-up to the launch, scheduled around December 2021
Dr Eddie Mahembe is a Development Economist. He holds a PhD in (Development) Economics, MCom in Economics, BCom Honours in Econometrics and BSc. Honours in Economics. He can be reached on Email: email@example.com and/or WhatsApp +27 60 532 8754.