Bree, Johannesburg South Africa: The Taxi Marshall, acts as a bus conductor, except he is doing it at a taxi rank. He peek’s into the taxi bound for Cresta, ensuring that all the 16 seats in the minibus taxi have been occupied. A woman sits in the second row from the front, holding a child. The seat next to her is empty.
“Is that child, under three-years of age” He asks the woman holding the little boy comfortably on her lap.
“He’s three” The mother replies hesitantly as if considering in hindsight what the right answer would have been.
“Well then, let him sit on the seat” He says closing the door loudly.
“No but it’s fine, someone can take this seat, someone can sit here” She repeats her voice almost desperate.
” No Sisi, sisi, I asked you how old is the child, is the child under three years?” The taxi marshall asks again.
“He’s three, I told you already that he is three” she says argumentatively. The taxi driver comes in and asks again how old the child is after having noticed that the taxi door had been closed but there was still an empty seat in the front row. It’s not ready to move yet, the taxi must be full before it leaves the rank. All 16 seats must have passengers, sometimes a 17th person can be squeezed in just – nje.
The taxi could be well on its way to Cresta now. It is already seven o’clock at night, on a month-end Saturday in Johannesburg. Many of the passengers had places to go, people to see, not to mention having to walk for however long at night to their places of residence. Minibus taxi’s don’t drop passengers at their front gate. Passengers in this taxi were already not so keen on a protracted waiting period while the woman makes an argument no one seems to understand.
” Sisi, put the child on the seat, it’s not me, it’s the government” He says banging the door once again. Then he opens it again as if pleading with her “the insurance is not going to pay for your child if something happens and it was found that you were holding him”
His last statement almost pours petrol into a fire already burning invisibly inside this woman. She seethed.
” Don’t you tell me about government insurance! We have been involved in so many taxi accidents, I have yet to see insurance! don’t tell me about government insurance, government insurance where? Kuphi? Where did you ever see government insurance for Taxi’s! Nxaaa!”
Terse conversation begins to bubble up in the taxi. Other passengers don’t understand why this woman is being so difficult. “What does she want, she says the kid is three, so she much pay, if she said the kid is two and a half we could be going now” They mutter to each other.
Finally the driver comes and settles the dispute. “Mama, you said the kid is three, so he must sit on the next seat”
The woman dumps her child on the seat next to her, which then means the taxi can get going.
This eases up the air in the taxi, passengers are now preoccupied with their wallets and getting the right fare and change to the driver. The hum of the traffic barely subdues whatever conversation was going on in front.
“You must remember you taxi drivers, that your money comes from people, we pay for taxi’s you can’t treat us like this so badly, your business depends on us. We are the ones who pay for these taxis’, telling me about government insurance!” Hmmph. It is the woman with the child again. She still hasn’t stopped.
Her voice disappears , four – three – three. Passengers collect their taxi fare.
Then a few minutes later the taxi driver says ” No no no, Sisi, I don’t want imali yezinyembezi, imali oyikhalela kanga” He continues ” Why are you crying over this money, I asked you if the child is under three years of age and you said he’s three. Now you are crying when you have to pay, no’ He says swerving the taxi to a stop by the curb. You can take another taxi if you like take your money.” He says ” I don’t want money that’s been cried over like this”
The Woman Screams. “How dare you! you can’t take me from Bree and come and dump me here in the middle of no-where! take me back to Bree if you want. But you are not leaving me here! I am not getting out!”
The woman is now very angry, it is clear that the conversation between her and the driver continued while the passengers were counting their cents and now it seems it has escalated to such a degree that they might have to go back to the rank and drop this woman off. It’s a conundrum. It’s now up to the driver to decide if he is going back to Bree or if he’s going to take this women’s “tear” money and proceed further.
The taxi is quiet now.
“It’s just because you started talking about me being Zimbabwean! Kungenaphi lokho ukuthi ngiyiZimbabwean? What does it have to do with anything?!” She launches into a long monologue that swallows the taxi driver’s attempts at an explanation. The taxi is moving ahead, and you can almost hear the collective sigh in the taxi. The taxi driver took the Woman’s tear money. But she is not satisfied.
” Why do you say you, you Zimbabweans?!” Did I ask you about being South African? where does my nationality come in?Hhe? We are all the same maaan, we all Africans ! What makes you better than me, you, you a South African? You black like me, there’s not difference between you and me, you driving a taxi like this at night you are no better than me, do you call this a life?”
Her voice is now the only music playing in the taxi.
” what do you have, a South African, you are black like me, we are both african, the sun burns us the same here, we are all struggling all poor. what do you guys know? saying I’m Zimbabean, Zimbabwean? where does being Zimbabwean come in? huh? You South African’s you must just know that we are all Africans here, no one is better than the other… Johannesburg is a city for everyone, you don’t own Johannesburg, Johannesburg is not yours!’
Phone rings.”Hello” On male passenger answers “yes, I’m in a taxi” I call,I call, I call, but no one come, no one pick”
“are you still in town” His conversation breaks the monotony of the Woman’s speech. “well I call I call, no one pick, no one pick eh?”
The back seat giggles at the mans; fruitless journey, or accent it’s not clear.
“Hello?! Hello?! I’m coming, I am in a taxi to Cresta, Huh? I’m in taxi to Cresta wait for me” Another passenger a woman this time takes a call and begins telling the person on the other end of the line over and over again that she is currently on a taxi to Cresta.
” What do you South African’s know huh?! What do you know?! ” The Woman’s voice has found its place once again, at the top of the passenger’s heads. ” What do you know huh? You South Africans….. all you know is killing, just killing each other that’s all you know, you are no better, we are all suffering here all suffering”
Excuse me, a young woman interjects, ” the lady at the back says I must give you this” she says handing the woman a R20 ( +- 2 USD) rand note.
“Na I’m fine” the woman says to more silence in the taxi.
Muttering begins again ” this lady just gave that woman 10 rands for the seat but she doesn’t want it” ” Oh she’s turning back money” “Oh Sisi, yehlisa umoya, calm down” ” Oh nami, I wanted to give her the money too, shoo, she doesn’t even want the money” The muttering continues, no one dared speak any louder in case the woman heard their comments and decided to turn her attention on them instead of the taxi-driver.
“You know I was fine. It’s just that I was fine with the seat and everything until you said you Zimbabweans, You Zimbabweans for what?! She had started again.
” We are all in the same boat here, we are all suffering, everybody is counting pennies, counting their money, that’s why we’re in a taxi, all of us… we are all in this taxi right now because we are suffering, no one is better…..”
A phone rings. “Hello” a man sitting in front of the taxi answers his phone.
“excuse me can you please call me after ten minutes? Yes, call me after ten minutes, There’s a problem in the taxi” he told whoever who was listening to him on the other end of the line with such seriousness.
The the entire taxi shook with laughter.
Even the Woman was laughing and was even able to articulate that fact between giggles.
“We are all laughing in the taxi now,” she said her shoulders shaking.
PS: When I got out of the taxi, I learnt one of the most important lessons in life. When first got into the taxi I sat next to the Woman with the child. I moved to the back because I wanted to be more comfortable. While sitting next to her I overheard her talking to her son saying we won’t have anything to eat tonight. But I wasn’t sure if she said that because they genuinely didn’t have money for food or because they’ll arrive too late to start eating when they get to where ever they were. When the argument about the seat started, I immediately thought it must be a money problem, that’s why I passed on the R20 to her as a gift. I know from experience that however small it could go a long way when money is too tight to mention. Perhaps it was her pride (which she is entitled to ) or just a matter of principle, but I learnt that sometimes money is not everything, and people just want to be heard, they want to express themselves” No money in the world can silence that need.