Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Necessary Evil

Spend five minutes in South Africa and you will become acquainted with the infamous mini bus taxis. These taxis are omnipresent in the same way yellow cabs cover New York City streets. 

Part bus and part taxi, people hale them down like cabs but like buses as they have designated routes and are packed to the max with riders. 

So what's the story with the mini bus taxis? During apartheid, black people were evicted from their homes and forced to live in townships. Townships were generally built on the outskirts of major towns and cities leaving the cities for white people only. As recently as 2007, statistics showed that 55% of black adults still lived in townships. Add to this the statistic that 50% of South Africans don't own cars as even modest cars are very expensive here. On a side note, from my own very non scientific research and observation it seems like the 50% of people that do own cars own very expensive and fancy cars (Deep family excluded) but these are blog post topics for another day.  Anyway, if many people don't have cars, and if they live on the edge of the cities and major towns and if there is no public transportation people can use to get to to work (or to get anywhere) then this all adds up to the need for the mini bus taxis.

The mini bus taxis all look the same but supposedly have details written on the back explaining their routes. I was told that there is a whole hand gesture code that riders use to flag down mini bus taxis. Say a person stands on the side of the road and points his index finger up, that might mean he wants to go north. I'm not saying that is what it means but it's something like that. It appears that there are certain areas where people congregate and wait for a mini bus taxi but it also seems that the mini buses will stop anywhere they want to such as right in the middle of the road to drop off or pick up passengers.

When we were staying in Sunninghill and now here at home in the afternoon I hear a lot of car honking coming from the street outside of our neighborhood (here they call it hooting and you will see signs that say no hooting.) The hooting is the mini bus taxis letting the maids, gardeners and others working in the residential area know their transportation is nearby.

The mini bus taxis are a constant topic of complaint. The griping is not without merit as the taxis drive dangerously and don't follow the rules of the road. Taxis will cut you off, run red lights and stop signs, stop in the middle of moving traffic, pass you on the wrong side, drive on the shoulder or grass and more. They pretty much do whatever they want to. I read an article that said that mini bus taxis are exempt from the laws because they are so necessary to the economy. Kind of the way a fire truck can do whatever it needs to do to get to a fire quickly. I asked about this and was told that it's not true and that mini bus taxis are supposed to obey traffic laws but they don't. 

The mini bus taxis help explain the large number of pedestrians that I've mentioned before. These are people waiting for their taxi, walking from where the taxi dropped them off or walking to get a taxi. Also, it explains the hooting which at first I thought was odd in a quiet suburban neighborhood at 3:00 in the afternoon. 

1 comment:

  1. This is fantastic! I would probably be an excellent taxibus driver since I seem to meet all the qualifications you listed. I am even good at hooting. 😉


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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.