Sitting at the dinner table with my typical Afrikaans family, it is a spectacle to see the facial expressions grimace with anger and disgust when the topic of taxi drivers come up. "Nee blerrie hel! Die spoedvark het reg voor my in gery – amper my bakkie gestamp!" As dramatic as it may be for a few minutes, there is a sad undertone to these conversations. For many people it is perfectly fine to sit in traffic while motorbikes come zooming past in the yellow lane, but dare a taxi do it, relieving some congestion in the lane, while transporting a whole groups of people to work. Amidst the latest metered taxi strike, is it not time we take a minute to thank the minibus taxi man.
It's a universal truth that all of us tend to lose our minds in traffic and use the taxi driver as a punching bag. When in fact, we're just making it worse for ourselves? Never mind the fact that we're all kind of jerks on the road, we just don't want to admit it. In his book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, journalist Tom Vanderbilt points out that while driving, people are surrounded by others (part of a group), and yet they're also cut off (anonymous), enclosed in steel and glass shells.
"Cars and modern freeways render drivers mute. That makes them mad. Behind the wheel, you're stripped of the ability to communicate in all but the most primitive, non-nuanced ways (honking, hand gestures, and light flashing) while your identity gets reduced down to a brand of vehicle. When you combine all of these factors, you have a really potent recipe for rage and aggressive behaviour." - Bryan Gardiner from Slate expanding on Vanderbilt's point.
Could the solution (easier said than done) be as simple as having a little patience, drizzled with a new perspective and a dash of respect for one another and in particular minibus taxi drivers? In most cases you are sitting behind your steering wheel cursing at the taxi driver, while forcing your way in front of him to make sure he does not take your spot. Is it worth it? As he is most likely just wanting to pass by in front of you to take to the lane you weren't driving in anyway.
Imagine how congested the roads would be, including the air pollution, if everyone had to drive to work in their own cars. Or how much longer do you think you would sit in traffic if each and every taxi stood in the lane with you? Instead, they are taking the risk to drive an alternative and most of the time dangerous route. This is not ideal, especially for the safety of the passengers, and I am not idolising taxi drivers for their actions. But, the fact is the South African government needs to intervene and provide better roads and transport solutions for minibus taxi drivers. But until the day we have official bus and minibus lanes on the highways and all main roads, a taxi driver has to do what a taxi driver has to do.
Alexander Hazen and Sabine Siller, two students from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, did fieldwork in South Africa as part of a research project into promoting entrepreneurship in Africa's taxi industry. They made sufficient noteworthy points that helped to start the shift of preconceived notions South African commuters have against taxi drivers. "This highly unappreciated industry is a fascinating expression of African entrepreneurship that has evolved into an industry on which more than 15 million people rely, every day."
"There is a vicious cycle that shapes the nature of the service. Forced to work long hours, and incentivised with high-revenue targets from taxi owners from whom they rent the vehicles, drivers are constantly in a rush and always on the lookout for shortcuts to make an extra buck."
We have recently seen the result of a business not adapting fast enough, which came in the form of the metered taxi drivers taking to the highways to protest Uber. While these taxi drivers are not in the same business structure as the minibus taxi drivers, it is worth noticing the difference in entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to adapting to stay relevant and needed. But alas, it's not easier for the minibus taxi man.
"There is a vicious cycle that shapes the nature of the service. Forced to work long hours, and incentivised with high-revenue targets from taxi owners from whom they rent the vehicles, drivers are constantly in a rush and always on the lookout for shortcuts to make an extra buck. When asked: 'Do you like being a taxi driver?' most drivers admit: 'No, I don't like it. I have to work from 4.30am till 9pm, I earn little money, and on top of that people hate us and treat us like dogs!'
Clearly not all drivers are saints, but empathy towards these stressed-out operators would do no harm." Says Hazen and Siller. If individual commuters could show more respect and perhaps raise a smile instead of the middle finger, the roads could make for a safer journey for everyone. Taxi drivers won't feel the need to push and rush, and individual commuters won't pop an eye vein from trying to show their fury to the world because a minibus drove past you.
Hereafter, this article will probably not change the way you drive. But perhaps the idea of an old ranting Afrikaans man spitting out his peas, green bullets flying across the table and hitting his wife's forehead, could be a reminder. Next time you are sitting in traffic it only takes a few seconds longer for the guy in the minibus, transporting innocent commuters, to quickly pass in front of you.
Maybe the dirt road has ran out and they simply want to join your lane for a few minutes before continuing their off-roading journey, who knows? What we do know is that we all tend to act like jerks in our steal-wheel-cases, and everyone can sacrifice a little patience – not our lives.