Day 20 – The Taxi Experience
Most of this was written on my phone in a taxi to Cape Town.
I sit in the minibus taxi, known here as a ‘combi’, waiting for it to fill. The driver shouts “Cab to Cape Town!” into the distance, similar to a market stall holder attracting punters. Slowly but surely the cab is filled. People of different ages and sizes occupy the worn seats, each lowering the vehicle closer to the ground. My knees dig into the back of the seat in front, causing a constant numbness in my legs. I spy a set of Hi-Fi speakers under the seat, blasting an array of 90s pop music.
He opens the window by putting his hand through the one behind. No freeloaders here, everyone pays their R20 (~£2) up front. With 16 passengers, the driver will earn about £30 for this journey – minus petrol of course. And when he reaches Cape Town, after grabbing a coffee perhaps, he’ll resume shouting – this time for a return journey to Atlantis.
It’s tough being a Taxi driver but they get by. Adnan, the driver we often use in Mamre, tells me of his experiences on the two single-lane roads to the City. He says he sees accidents almost daily, explaining how the road can become very dangerous on the foggy mornings. The death toll is high, and little has been done to find a solution. He also tells me about the dangers of travelling with dodgy papers, breaking speed limits and being caught for a fine. Here, traffic lights are known as ‘robots’. Much like the UK, they are often mounted with cameras which can reel off R600-1000 (~£60-100) fines.
Other locals explain how the dedicated bus lane on the road to Cape Town was supposed to have been completed by the World Cup. With kick off last week, the lane is still not in use. Railways on these sides were once in operation, but I’m told they weren’t making enough money to remain open. That may once have been the case, but in modern day Cape Town affordable public transport, replacing taxis and massively unreliable buses, couldn’t be more important.
A passenger dismounts at Table View, a shopping centre popular with many in the surrounding areas. The smell of petrol seeps into the van, polluting our lungs. The journey continues – with the beginnings of a rainbow to my left, and a fantastic view of Table Mountain to my right.
The passenger beside me has been quietly observing as I type these words. “Have you got any blisters on your thumbs?” she asks. I turned to her and smiled, “Nope, not yet.”
Those words were enough to spur the lady on, sat with her child on her lap and partner to her left. I attempt to type as she speaks, but she’s in demand of a real conversation. She has very strong views – a self-proclaimed pessimist. She tells me of an inequality that the people who are “not white enough nor black enough” suffer. Due to BEE, or Black Economic Empowerment, a positive discrimination act introduced post-apartheid, she argues that those favoured for work are the black applicants over any others. According to the declaration in 2008, however; the Coloured, Indians and Chinese are now also considered Black. Interestingly the previous day some of the other volunteers also experienced complaints about BEE from a white South African.
This was the most engaging conversation I’ve witnessed thus far, as the lady continued to speak of the realities of living in poverty. She assumed that I had only seen the glamorous side of the country, and gave me a quote in Afrikaans translated as ‘Keep the shining part on top’. “If we came to visit the UK, you wouldn’t want to show us the horrible parts. You’d want us to see the nice, fake things on offer.” I couldn’t argue, instead telling her that we’d visited a number of townships.
She says if she had a job offer here, and was offered the same salary in the UK, she’d pack her bags and leave without a second thought. I wondered why, and she ran it by her partner to who acknowledged the shared feeling. “You know they treat immigrants like trash in the UK”, I tell her. She was surprised; admitting that people always think the grass is greener on the other side.
“Why do you think so many people emigrate from South Africa? They’ll get a fancy job which means an opportunity in America, and they’ll take it. I’d run away too if I could. Why? There’s nothing here.”
The conversation ended as the bus pulled up to the taxi ranks in town. I offered the only words I could conjure up – from a fellow realist – I asked her to keep positive. We then parted ways, looking to my next adventure.