Friday, November 21, 2008

taxi lunacy

Ok, so it is a sort of unwritten, accepted fact that, when you live in Africa, life is seldom logical and predictable. In fact it is one of the attractions of living in this crazy-colourful-charismatic-chaotic continent.... you know, life on the edge, adreniline rush just by waking up, that kind of thing!

But sometimes the things that happen in society, and the way the government reacts (or fails to react, most likely, in our current dispensation) are so gobsmackingly illogical, destructive, STUPID, that even when allowing for the 'life in Africa' factor, they cause you to sit back and shake your head in wonder.

Minibus Taxis are the subject of much heated debate in South Africa. The industry emerged out of the repressive Apartheid years, mushrooming as freedom of movement was suddenly allowed, and government control over public transport ended.

They quickly set themselves up as the mafia of movement, the terror of transport, the scourge of the streets, the killer of commuters....... you get the picture.

Over the years, a kind of dumb acceptance has settled in, there is one set of rules for taxi drivers and another for the rest of society. The rules of the road apply to normal drivers, taxis have only 1 rule... 'stay off my turf or prepare to die'.

Now I know all this sounds extreme, and by now you are thinking "what is this woman ranting on about? She must be exaggerating."

Well I wish I was. In South Africa, to enter a minibus taxi is to play Russian Roulette.

  • If you are a woman,or even a child, there is a very good chance that you will suffer some form of abuse. It has been publicly announced that any woman boarding a taxi in a short skirt is making a declaration that she wants to be raped.
  • Overloading is the norm, and taxis designed with tight seating for 14 have been frequently found to have up to 30 onboard.
  • Roadworthiness of the vehicle seems to be a relative thing.... normal cars need to meet certain standards, taxis can fall to pieces around their passengers with impunity.
  • if you happen to enter a taxi involved in a turf war, you stand a good chance of being caught in crossfire, shootouts between taxi drivers have become so common that they often don't even make it into the press. Occasionally if an innocent child or bystander gets killed, it may receive a mention.
  • speeding down multi lane thoroughfares, weaving in and out of the traffic, stopping suddenly in the middle of a lane of traffic to pick up or drop of passengers, and hooting loudly the whole way is standard taxi behaviour.
  • the traffic accident statistics are regularly boosted with horrendous taxi accidents in which, due to the overloading, unnecessarily large numbers of people are killed or maimed.

The latest actions of the taxi owners in Port Elizabeth eclipse all this selfishness. Because of all the rah-rah over the 2010 World Cup Soccer, and the sudden realisation that we need infrastructure to cope with the hoped for influx of visitors (don't even get me STARTED on that subject, we'll be here all day!)... the powers that be are constructing a special bus route and upgrading the public transport system.

Perceiving a threat to their strangle-hold on the transport of workers (after all if people have a choice about how to get to work, you can be sure a lot fewer would subject themselves to the abuse handed out by the taxi drivers) they decided to go on strike! Their plan is to let a few hundred thousand people miss work, bring industry to a halt, jeopardise the jobs of the workers which are already under threat due to the economic crisis, and shoot at any bus or car that tries to help them get to work, in order to force the Municipality to abandon plans for improving public transport. To read the response of the Mayor of Port Elizabeth to their letter of demand, go to MyPE.

Now that all this liberty has been won, and the democracy achieved at so high a price, I find it hard to come to terms with the type of people, taxi drivers, politicians and fat cat business men amongst them, who are set on a path of self enrichment at the expense of their own people. There are many thousands of people who depend on taxis to get to work every day, and who work on a 'no work, no pay' basis. Thousands of scholars also rely on them, and those writing their Matric final exams have been unable to get there. They are the ones who are paying for the greed of this handful of people who control the lives of so many.

I will give you just one example. I have a domestic worker who comes to my house twice a week. She works for someone else for another two days. She is a widow in her mid 50s, with 4 children to support. One is studying, (on a bursary) one is still at school, and the other two have left school but have been unable to find work. She is an unskilled worker who works slowly and not very well, largely due to poor health. I pay her well above the average that is paid for such a job, but even so, she earns a pittance for her 4 days of labour. Every cent counts. She was in despair this morning when she phoned and said there were still no taxis or busses, so she can't come to work today. I offered to collect her, but she said no, it is not safe. Even though I said I would pay her, because it is not her fault, it will still be only next week before she can come and collect her money.

Now the things I battle to come to terms with are these....

The people who are most at risk in all this are the passengers, who are PAYING CUSTOMERS!! These are the people who had the courage to stand against a repressive regime and use passive resistance and mass action to win their freedom. Yet they tolerate this abuse and blatant disregard for their lives from the taxi drivers.

I cannot comprehend how someone will, day after day, PAY someone for a service, and willingly submit to being treated so badly. With the high level of unionization in this country, and emphasis on human rights, workers rights, consumers rights, democratic rights and freedom to choose, it is just beyond me why a lobby has not yet been formed to insist on the taxis putting the comfort and safety of their customers first.

And I also wonder where the law enforcement in our country is whenever the taxis break the law.

Do the taxi operators think that being "previously disadvantaged " gives them the right to trample on the rights of all the other previously disadvantaged people who stood side by side with them, to bring about the freedom from oppression that makes their industry possible?

The best quote that comes to mind in this regard is one of my favourites from former President Nelson Mandela...

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What I've done.........

I found this on Janet’s blog, and thought it looked like fun. If you want to play along just copy this and then bold the things you've done.


1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee


100. Ridden an elephant

Wow 52, more than half... One thing I really really want to do sometime is go to Antarctica, but somehow doubt if it will happen. ..... in the meantime I travel vicariously, I read everything I can find about it, and drool over iceberg photos!