Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Taking Taxis

I know I wrote earlier that the taxi buses have a bad reputation, but that’s among white people.  As I’m quickly learning, anything that involves the black population has a bad reputation among the white people here.  It seems to me that the reputation is usually worse than the reality.

The truth is that taxi buses transport the majority of Johannesburg’s working population every day.  They’re fast, frequent, and reliable.

For the last couple days I’ve been taking taxis home from work.  It’s easy because Hillbrow is the beginning/end of the route, so I can just walk to the taxi stop from the office and get into one of the waiting taxis.  To take it to work from my home, I’ll have to stand beside the highway and signal.  I haven’t done this yet.

They’re an adventure.  Four rows of seats, three people per row, except for the back row which has four people.  It’s hard to believe 16 people (including the driver) can fit into one of those vans.

A broken taxi being pushed along a street in Hillbrow

It’s R10 (Rand is the SA currency) a ride, which is about $1.20 CDN.  Once inside, everyone passes their money to the centre person in their row, who then passes it up and mutters how many people it’s for.  So if you’re in the back row, one of the middle people passes it up and says, “Four.”  If you’re in a middle row, someone passes it up and says, “Three.”  Then the driver passes back the change and whoever passed the money up passes around the change to his/her seatmates.

The first time I took it home, my coworker walked me to the taxi stop.  I asked him, “How will I tell the driver to stop?”

He said, “Where are you going?

Me: “Jan Smuts and Conrad.”

A man in the taxi nodded and said he’d tell me when to get off.  We took off and barreled along the highway, weaving in and out of traffic.  Whenever people wanted out, they’d quietly say “Next robot” or “This corner.”

“Robot” means traffic light.

Everyone talks quietly in the taxis.

We got to the corner I wanted and I hesitated.  I thought the taxi would turn left because I thought that was Jan Smuts Avenue, but I was wrong.  Right was Jan Smuts, and left was Conrad – where I wanted to go.  The taxi took off from my corner, but someone else (who I hadn’t spoken to previously), said, “No I think she wants off.  She wants Conrad into Blairgowrie.”

A woman told me to walk left and go past Nando’s restaurant.

Needless to say, everyone was super friendly and helpful – despite being black.

(This is an example of me using exaggeration to represent sarcastic humour.)

The next day, I knew exactly where to get off.  Near my stop I slowly made my way from the back of the taxi to the second row (behind the driver, next to the door), and muttered, “Next robot.”

Easy.  Simple.  Effective.

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