Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Emergency Taxis (Combis)

December 13, '08 Comments [19] Posted in Africa
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taxi_overload Taxis in South Africa are not safe. I'm not talking about metered cabs, I'm talking about what we called "ETs" or Emergency Taxis in Zimbabwe. Basically Minibuses on a fixed route, stuff with people. Almost always Black People.

For many (most?) this is the only way to get around. You've either got a car, walk, or take a Taxi. There are nearly 130,000 taxis in RSA. They have no seat belts, or the belts are not used. They often run with the doors open. Once in Zimbabwe I was asked to hold the passenger side door to look shut as it had fallen off the hinges.

They'll pack you in like you've never been packed into a vehicle. You'll sit on laps and hang off the side. You'll hold on for dear life and listen to fights and honks. Sometimes a cab will encroach on another's turf and you're in the middle of it.

You stand by the side of the road in known, but unlabeled spots, and you make a hand signal. Point a finger up to say you want to go to town. A finger pointed down if you want a local taxi for somewhere near. There's many hand signs that you just pick up as lore. For example, there's a route down the street that will take me to the Clearwater Mall for 6 Rand (about 60 US cents) per person. I hold one finger down, and say "NgiyaeClearwater" to make sure they are going that way, and I'm off. I could just say "Clearwater" or speak English, but I feel that if I speak Zulu, or whatever the local language is, depending on where you are catching the taxi, that I'll be less likely to be messed with or talked about. This might just be me, but I've found that if you have a great accent with even a few words, folks assume you're totally fluent until proven otherwise. I'm not...I have the Zulu-speaking abilities of a kindergartener, but I can click effectively.

So far, in eight years, I've seen two other white folks in taxis. It's apparently just not done. I've also been harassed (in Zulu) by a drunk man who said "they take our land and now they are riding in our taxis."

All this said, I wouldn't recommend taxis in South Africa if you have another option.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008 11:55:24 PM UTC
It's funny how surprised you seem by this, there's culture shock for you. If I'd go to SA, I'd feel right at home, here in my country (Dominican Republic) we have the same thing, except we call them Carros Publicos (Public Cars). It's exactly the same principle, the thing is they're actually cars and the convention is four persons in the back, two in the passenger seat, plus the driver. I guess the paralallel to SA taxis are what we call in slang the Matala Volando, literally translated to Kill them flying (for their speed). We have the same hand signalling protocol and questions to confirm the routes. And I don't know in SA, but you can have a great time riding carros publicos here, as you mingle with people, which are very friendly ;).

P.S
We have Taxis also, the way they operate in the U.S.
Hector
Sunday, December 14, 2008 12:37:33 AM UTC
+1 on the value of a great accent, even with minimal vocabulary. It's amazing how far it can get you. Once someone has snap-judged you as sounding fluent, it seems to take a surprising number of failed communications before they reverse their opinion.

It's unfortunate how many people seem to to think working on their accent is optional. A little bit of work on vowel subtleties and being willing to go through the undignified contortions necessary for "unnatural consonants" has such a big payoff.
Sunday, December 14, 2008 12:43:11 AM UTC
They have something similar (though maybe not quite as extreme) in Turkey, but it's not at all uncommon for tourists like ourselves to take them. The great thing is the name, though: dolmus, which translates literally as stuffed :)
Sunday, December 14, 2008 3:20:06 AM UTC
I lived in South Africa for 23 years, and I can tell you, you won't have a great time riding a mini bus taxi. Thing is in South Africa there is little to no public transport. The mini bus taxi is the cheapest option for many. Both locals and tourists have many horror stories to tell about driving in mini bus taxi's. Unfortunately if you don't have a car (common for tourists, and in South Africa in general) your options are limited, and proper yellow cab taxi's are pretty expensive to travel around in, even with the favourable exchange rate.
Anonymous
Sunday, December 14, 2008 5:28:39 AM UTC
I love it. I didn't have the opportunity to ride in one. But I did see a few of these in Niger. Here's one that had 20+ goats stuck on top. http://thehumankite.blogspot.com/search?q=taxi.
Sunday, December 14, 2008 6:32:39 AM UTC
Hi Scott --

As Anonymous said, there are the formal taxi services: two are Roses & SafeCabs. Both offer clean cars & safe drivers. But you won't get them for R6,00.

And just when you thought things couldn't get worse: a large percentage of the minibus taxi drivers don't hold legal driver's licenses <sigh>

If you are taking a minibus then look for the 'larger' minibus taxis. These are taxis - built to government specification - designed to replace the smaller 'standard' minibus, the idea being that they will only be available to fully legal entities.

Go well

-- rowan
Rowan Hutchinson
Sunday, December 14, 2008 6:32:42 AM UTC
Hi Scott --

As Anonymous said, there are the formal taxi services: two are Roses & SafeCabs. Both offer clean cars & safe drivers. But you won't get them for R6,00.

And just when you thought things couldn't get worse: a large percentage of the minibus taxi drivers don't hold legal driver's licenses <sigh>

If you are taking a minibus then look for the 'larger' minibus taxis. These are taxis - built to government specification - designed to replace the smaller 'standard' minibus, the idea being that they will only be available to fully legal entities.

Go well

-- rowan
Rowan Hutchinson
Sunday, December 14, 2008 6:58:53 AM UTC
I live in Cape Town, and I used to take those taxi's all the time as a penniless student about ten years ago. I was almost unfailingly addressed as Barry, as in Barry White.

Sunday, December 14, 2008 8:00:04 AM UTC
I suppose it depends on where you are but I wouldn't say that most mini-bus taxis are in as bad shape as you described. They're in bad shape generally yes, but the vast majority are still road worthy. What makes them unsafe is the fact that the drivers choose to ignore any and all traffic rules.

Taxi drivers don't get paid a salary, instead, the taxi owner simply stipulates that at the end of each day he expects X amount of money and the driver can keep the rest for himself. So for the drivers it's literally a case of "time is money". Plus the fact that passengers now usually refuse to be packed in like sardines as it's against the law, only adds to the pressure on the driver to get as many trips in as possible.

I've had plenty of close calls in taxis over the years so I too wouldn't recommend them for anyone unfamiliar with them (it can be traumatic) but I do miss the camaraderie of the passengers, the lively discussions and laughter, the music (once a guy with a cowboy hat and guitar-yes, in South Africa- got on the taxi and serenaded us all the way to town and we demanded that he not be charged).

Good times :)
senkwe
Sunday, December 14, 2008 8:22:35 AM UTC
Coming down from Nairobi to Arusha once, these tout-boys persuaded me into their combi, which had only one spare seat in it (mine). "Great, I thought, we'll be off as soon as I sit down." Three hours later, (three hours after they had pocketed my money), it dawned on me that there was always one spare seat, as all of the other passengers were in fact, paid 'seat fillers,' who had been hanging around the market looking to make a spare shilling or so. Each time they made a sale, someone else would get up and disappear into the crowd... Tricks for new players...
Hexagon Global
Sunday, December 14, 2008 8:34:52 AM UTC
Not to mentioned the taxi wars. These taxi drivers have like gang groups, if you on my block then you take my money. There is also at least once a year a fight between all taxi organizations and bus organizations, and usually end up in violence.
Sunday, December 14, 2008 5:18:55 PM UTC
Hi Scott. I've followed your latest South African odyssey with some interest, given that I am South African. I have however felt that you've generalised from Johannesburg to South Africa as a whole. I know you are coming to Cape Town (wish I could attend your talk) and I would be curious to hear if you feel whether there are any significant differences between the two cities.

In particular I believe that Cape Town is less prone to the 'burbclave' phenomenon, people do seem to walk more, and I personally have used many a 'ET' (although I have never heard them called that before).
Sunday, December 14, 2008 5:53:31 PM UTC
Sharing the Jo'Burg roads with these taxi's can also be an "interesting" experience. They have, for example, a habit of stopping on the other side of a traffic signal (or "robot" as that are commonly called in SA) for the passengers to disembark just after the light turned green. Why the passengers don't get out while they are parked at the red light already is beyond me.
Sunday, December 14, 2008 8:14:09 PM UTC
Carlo - Valid point! I agree that the Jozi attitude tends to be loud and shout out the rest of South Africa. It would be like visiting New York City and assuming that Fargo, North Dakota is the same!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 8:34:48 AM UTC
Hi Scott,
There's an unclosed HTML tag on Hexagon Global's comment... it's making all the comment after it Italic... Please fix if u can; It makes it difficult to read.
Friday, December 19, 2008 4:53:00 AM UTC

On a 3 month trip to SA, I used 'regular' taxis in Jozie, and found them more scary than the bakkies - which is what they call the taxi-buses in the bundu, and they seem to call them Mozzies in Durban.
In Jozie, the taxis are prone to being pulled over to pay bribes to the police, and all the drivers I had with the exception of Rose's taxi seemed completely illiterate and didn't have a clue where they were going. If you couldn't tell them you were out of luck. Not to mention that one driver I had was also innumerate and didn't realise that if you were looking for a street number that they went in sequence.
In Durban there was more of an attitude. If I took a mozzie and didn't know where I was getting off, no one would tell me, and I ended up some really wild places, and getting swapped between taxis in mid-intersection at one point. THAT was a hoot!
The bakkies in the northern bundu through Manguzi usually had 14 or more passengers plus their 100lb bags of rice or corn-meal and other groceries, roaring down the highway at top speed, with the maskandi (Zulu version of C&W <G>) playing at top volume. I laughed through the whole trip. It was wonderful!!
In Cape Town I mostly walked or took the 'hop-on, hop-off' tourist bus.
I thought Jozie had a vibe and a buzz like NYC - you can smell in the air that it's a TCB city. Durban - well, I thought it was the most (racially) divided city, the worst mannered, least helpful. Cape Town is one of the world's most beautiful cities, I'm sure. I'd love to retire in that area - I've had enough of Canadian winters, thank you. Was in lots of small places too - great time - fascinating, exasperating, wonderful, beautiful - SA has it all.
Sala kahle
~granny m
Granny M
Friday, December 19, 2008 6:49:53 PM UTC
<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya40W8ezLw4>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya40W8ezLw4</a>
D-Man
Friday, December 19, 2008 6:50:14 PM UTC
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya40W8ezLw4
D-Man
Friday, December 19, 2008 6:50:59 PM UTC
D-Man
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.