After all the doom and gloom we face and will continue to face in SA, I thought some humour is called for, in the form of transport we have come to detest with a passion - yup, the ubiquitous minibus taxi...!
Togetherness Tshabalala weaves his High Impact African Culling Equipment (Hi-Ace for short), through the rush-hour traffic, occasionally using the pavement to increase productivity. The rising sun shines brightly off Togetherness’s gleaming, stolen BMW hubcaps.
Togetherness is a confident man with high spirits, as evidenced by the stickers on his rear window “GOD LOVES TAXI DRIVERS” and “AVOID CONSTIPATION - TRAVEL BY TAXI”.
On the front of his taxi, between a large dent which, ominously, is in the shape of a large traffic cop, and the holes from a small spray of bullets, is a lurid notice reading: “JUKSKEI PARK EXPRESS INAUGURAL FLIGHT”. Using the word “flight” is Togetherness’s own little personal joke. What we are witnessing is the inaugural leg of what is hopefully to become a daily service between Jukskei Park and Johannesburg a 25 km journey which takes 10 minutes - less if the pavements are open. The percussion waves from Togetherness’s powerful radio (taken from a BMW Z3) pushes back the early mist. He is playing Boom Shaka’s latest low frequency, 120 dB hit (“How low can we go”). He hoots as he drives. Togetherness hoots at anything he sees - including trees - as is the custom of his people.
On board the taxi are a dozen white people. They do not come whiter than this. They are Omo-white. But they were not born white. No, their pallor is due to fear and stark terror. Take John Mleka. Never in his life has he done 0 to 100 km/h in six seconds - especially not in heavy traffic. Denise Mthaba’s colour has changed from green-black to a sort of waxen ivory as quickly as the last traffic light had changed to red (a colour which traditionally prompts taxi drivers to make even more haste).
Togetherness regularly looks over his shoulder while driving - even for a full minute - asking passengers their destinations. Elizabeth Mkize sitting right at the back - has the opportunity to say “Rendberg centa” even though she works in Johannesbeg. Randburg was coming up fast and it suddenly seemed near enough for her. She worries about how she will make her way to the front - but only fleetingly, because the taxi has now reached Randburg and Togetherness has stopped. He has stopped as suddenly as a plane night stop up against a mountain. Now EVERYBODY is at the front in a warm, intimate heap. Elizabeth alights as gracefully as anybody can with one knee locked behind the other. She is vaguely aware of passers-by loosening her clothing and shouting “Give her air!”
Togetherness bowls happily along Jan Smuts avenue, overtaking a police BMW which is chasing a getaway car. Then he overtakes the getaway car too, exchanging boisterous greeting with the driver whom he knows. Togetherness is steering with his elbows because he needs his hands free to check the morning’s takings and to wave to girls on the pavements. What is even more remarkable is that when Togetherness’s friend, Sipho, stole this vehicle, it was fitted with a steering lock, so Sipho had to remove the steering wheel. The spanner that Sipho has attached to the steering bolt in its place is quite adequate though.
Togetherness smiles and turns to his passengers as he accelerates past a truck on a blind rise. He announces “Ladies and gentlemen thees ees your ceptain. We will shortly be lending in Johennesbeg. Plis make sure your seatbelts are in the upright position, end your seats are fastended. Thank you for flying with us today. We hope to see you soon again.”
John Mleka is gripping the seat in front of him so tightly he notices his fingers tips have gone transparent, just as a passing taxi fires a brief burst from an automatic weapon in his direction. Togetherness now reaches the city and merges with the in-bound traffic like his ancestors merged with the British at Isandlwana. He stops at his usual disembarkation point in the middle of an intersection and picks his teeth patiently while people sort out their legs and teeth before groping their way towards a pole around which they can throw their arms. By the time his passengers’ eyeballs have settled back in their parent sockets, Togetherness is already halfway back to Jukskei Park with another load of passengers.