I remember a brilliant feeling I had returning to South Africa from just over a month overseas a while ago. I decided to leave my car a t home and boarded a minibus taxi to the Johannesburg city centre. Being inside the taxi gave me an experience unique to South Africa. I didn’t greet as I entered. I had become used to the European way of minding my own business inside trains, trams and busses. In South Africa I was quickly told by the female minibus taxi driver to respect others and greet. She actually didn’t tell me, but spoke about me in my presence until I apoligised and greeted everyone.
Another great experience about this was that the driver was Zulu speaking, there was a Sotho speaking woman in the back seat and someone else spoke Xhosa, another Tswana and so on. All these people understood each other and there was a vibrant and exciting conversation about young people and their overseas travels and the driver told us about her sister who was studying medicine in Cuba. None of these people knew each other before this experience.
My two major criticisms of the Johannesburg minibus taxi experience are that most drivers are rude to their customers and owners seldom service their taxis.
I have been in Pietermaritzburg during the past two days and I have realised that taxis here look clean and appear to have been repaired a bit better than those in Johannesburg. They even take this to a higher level in Durban and Pietermaritzburg as they paint them in tattoo-like designs with all kinds of shapes and figures on the outside. They are also given interesting names. This is not a new trend in Pietermaritzburg as I remember that my favourite taxis were named ‘Status’ and ‘Chocolate’ when I was growing up. That clearly hasn’t changed.
Taxis in this part of the world also have driver assistants who would be calling customers for him, count the money, and open and close the doors for customers. But they are also unsafe when they show half their bodies outside the windows as they call commuters, but that is what also makes the experience brilliant.
I wish Johannesburg taxi owners and drivers would visit Durban and Pietermaritzburg to see what minibus taxi drivers should look like.