I have never really had an opinion about taxis. I grew up using them, so for me they were as normal as bread and butter.
I’ve gone through the skorokoro (worn and ragged) phase, where the taxi would brake down every second day and passengers would need to jump out and push it.
As a pupil, this meant I had to put aside my school bag and give the driver “a hand”. Nobody dared to complain. Corporates in their dapper suits had to take off their ties and blazers, while frail gogos tried their best to help while clutching their walking sticks.
I noted with interest how nurses in their all-white uniforms never involved themselves in the forced physical labour. They always stood on the side, pretending to be oblivious to what was happening.
In my 20-plus years of using them, I’ve even shared taxis with goats.
I’ve lost count the number of times the conductor or sliding-door operator (as they like to call themselves these days) asked passengers to “love each other” when they would squeeze 22 passengers, half of them voluptuous women, into an 18-seater taxi.
To describe those rides as uncomfortable would be an understatement, but ask any taxi commuter and they would tell you that comfort and a taxi ride don’t go together.
Taxi commuting is not about comfort; it’s about getting to your destination in peace and one piece.
When I moved to Durban nine years ago I was introduced to a different side of taxi commuting.
First, I had to familiarise myself with all the different hand signals.
I was fascinated by how Durban drivers took pride in their taxis. The taxis are some of the best taxis I’ve ever travelled in. They are pimped with alloy wheels, TV screens and some even have disco lights.
The drivers, however, are more impatient. As soon as you set foot in one, the driver speeds off as you try to grab on to seats, passengers - anything to get your balance.
I don’t like the blaring music, the arguments over change or when the driver would bring the taxi to a grinding halt, demanding to know who hadn’t paid their fare.
However, when I bought my car three years ago, I found myself having taxi withdrawal symptoms. I missed the conversations I had with complete strangers, the football arguments before a Soweto derby, the drunk who would ask the taxi to stop every hour for a pit stop.
My car went in for repairs recently, and I’ve had to resort to using taxis again.
I’m fascinated at the difference in behaviour between the drivers in town and those in suburban areas.
For the past three weeks I’ve been travelling from Lillian Ngoyi (Windermere) Road, and I’ve been in complete awe at drivers’ mannerisms.
The taxis don’t take off before you’re seated.
The drivers greet each passenger as they jump in and there is no blaring music.
The morning and afternoon chats with fellow commuters are also a little different.
There are many old-age homes in my area, and I find myself having interesting chats with the elderly.
I broke out in a fit of laughter last week when an elderly couple started having a conversation with one of the passengers who happened to be a nurse at a home. As soon as they alighted, the nurse proceeded to tell everyone how the old lady had “stolen” her partner from another woman.
“You’d be surprised at how these grannies still fight over men,” she told amused passengers.
“Well,” chirped another passenger. “Everybody wants love.”
It is such chatter, with complete strangers, that I love.
- Independent on Saturday