Fare’s fair: Chronicle of a Cape Town taxi ride
Commuting by taxi in Cape Town is the cheapest and fastest way for students to get around but these days it seems that the ride might cost R5 plus your life. Brent Poggenpoel takes readers on a ride through the city.
Standing on the pavement, entjie in one hand and coffee in the other, I await the arrival of my rusty chariot. I hear it before I see it. TOOOT TOOT.
“CLAREMON-MOBRI-KAAP!” yells a yellow beady-eyed man from the half-open taxi. He chucks the door open and jumps out. They call him ‘Gaatjie’ although I doubt it’s his Christian name. “Kom nou mêrem nou ry gou ry!” He shepherds each passenger into the taxi, stacking them like a Cozy Corner Polony Gatsby. “Righto driver, GOOOI!” The taxi whips away as if it’s about to dice, powered by the modified engine designed for stealthily weaving through traffic faster than the V-dubs at the drags.
The sound of pocket change jingles from Gaatjie’s money bag; a tattered old bank bag wound tightly around his left hand to protect his moola “Change, mense. Nodig iemand change?” the taxi driver yells above the sound system. Gaatjie sticks out his hand to collect passengers’ reparations.
A finger pointed heavenwards in the road ahead of us brings the taxi to an abrupt stop. The door is chucked open again and Gaatjie squeezes yet another passenger into the already overflowing taxi. An aunty eating a chip roll on the back seat emits a grumble of frustration but it’s pointless for her or anyone to moan at this point of the journey. Would moaning have helped the 9 who were fatally killed in January after the driver lost control of his taxi in Central Karoo? The Toyota Quantum, only permitted to transport 14 passengers was overloaded by ten. This is not uncommon in Cape Town too. Taxi drivers are uitgevriet for money and place passengers’ lives at risk.
Our journey continues, but Gaatjie looks confused as he counts the passengers’ fare. “RIGHTO WIETI BETAALI?” Gaatjie yells, loud enough that the driver immediately switches off the radio. Shew! Peace at last!
“WAT SÊ JY?” the driver yells.
“Os is short, driver!” Gaatjie yells back. “Mense, wieti betaali?” There is dead silence at this point as the driver drastically reduces his speed. The chip roll aunty gives one large gulp before closing her box to the seriousness of the matter.
“Kan almal net seker maak hulle het betaal asseblief?” Gaatjie asks. His politeness takes me by surprise – not your typical gangster maniere. I sense the approach of swinging of guns and death threats! Everyone knows you never come between a gangster and his money. R5 is a halwe brood se geld. The uncle sitting next to me taps me on my knee: “Did you pay?”
“Yes, uncle,” I nervously respond.
“O ok coz now the other day my fren told me how they moered a ou out the taxi for not paying, in Clarmon main road.”
“Ya, he’s still in hospital.” Although shocking to hear, the violence comes as no surprise. Just yesterday I read in the newspaper about two taxi drivers shot dead on the Langa rank. Nine others injured. Commuting by taxi in Cape Town is the cheapest and fastest way for students to get around but these days it seems that the ride might cost R5 plus your life. I wonder if Gaatjie would be at my funeral. I retreat into my seat, clench my sweaty fists and start silently saying my prayers. Oooh Here Jesus…
“Mense ek gaani weer vra nie! Wieti betaali?” Gaatjie warns.
Laat U naam geheilig word…
Another taxi passes by klopping gospel songs. “Why couldn’t I be in that taxi, Jesus?”
“Huh?” inquires Gaatjie aggressively.
“Nee niksie, niksie Gaatjie,” I respond, hoping he doesn’t answer back with a bekskoot. “Relax bru, ekt gesien jyt betaal,” Gaatjie confesses, followed by a smile revealing his passion gap. “Kygie, kygie, kygie vat julle my bek vir a vis kafie?”. The awkward silence crescendos; watery eyeballs float around as everyone looks shamefully at one another, but I’m a free man! Then suddenly –
“Haaaaa haaaaa! Hoooo hooo! Sorry sorry sorry Gaatjie!” A loud voice echoes from the back seat. I turn to look; it’s the chip roll aunty. “Ek was so besig om te iet dat ek vergiet het om te betaal sorrrry.” A wave of redemption flows through the taxi as the aunty pays her fare over to Gaatjie.
“Dankie, antie,” Gaatjie politely responds. The driver drops a gear, my ears begin to ring once more; we must be on our way again. Amen, dankie Jesus!