German ambassador to South Africa Walter Lindner transporting passengers from Denneboom Station to Mamelodi East in the kombi. Picture: Masi Losi / Independent Media.

Tshwane - Commuters in Mamelodi were given a stylish German experience after being ferried around the township by the German ambassador to South Africa, Walter Lindner.

The ambassador, who was once a taxi driver in his native country, arrived at the Denneboom Taxi Rank on Saturday in a rebuilt 1971 VW Kombi branded in the German national colours and the retro design of the 1970s.

He then transported commuters in the township.

KombiSA, the name given to the bus, bears a modern-style interior to allow for open discussion with South Africans. While this might be the case, Lindner saw a glimpse of how competitive it was to be a taxi driver in South Africa.

Less than 20 minutes into his shift and with a load of passengers on board, he was stopped by a group of three taxi association members who were under the impression that he was operating on their route illegally.

The moment of confusion was quickly resolved by Mamelodi Amalgamated Taxi Association affiliates who were escorting him through the township.

Earlier, he had spoken to some of the drivers affiliated to the association at the taxi rank while they were playing a game of Morabaraba.

Lindner joked: “I used to be a taxi driver and I used to drive at night when people were going for drinks. When they got drunk, they wouldn’t notice when I took a detour to make extra money.”

Shocked by local taxi industry

Lindner said he was able to make good money, but was shocked to hear how thin the local taxi economy was.

“We were allowed to keep 50% of the money we made plus the tip. I don’t know how the industry works in South Africa,” he said.

Taxi drivers cited the competitive nature of the industry that it made it difficult for them to make ends meet. “As drivers, we get different percentages. Some get 20% and others 30%; it depends on the owner,” Japhta Maubane told the German.

Some of the drivers told Lindner about the long hours they had to spend on the road while also lamenting the impact that other industries had on the taxi trade.

“Every year people are retrenched from companies and we work with working people. So if people are not working our income becomes less every yea. The number of cars on the road is also increasing every year. This too means less income,” Maubane said.

Lindner later told the drivers that the money gained from his trip would be donated back to the taxi association. “I will leave the money that I make here with you guys. You can distribute it. I want to leave the money here and not take it away because this is your livelihood,” he said.

Pretoria News