It’s the little of the littlest things that get to you in a time of war. Like today, the 8th of November 2017 is my cousin’s 44th birthday. She was hoping to get out of her house for some fresh air. “Ngibone abantu,” she said over the phone. But she’s trapped in her house because there’s a minibus #taxistrike. The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) is protesting against the government over a litany of grievances which include but are not limited to matters related to taxi route operations, provisions in the National Transport Land Act, the controversial Taxi Recapitalization Programme, compensation for operating licenses and the taxi subsidies.
The minibus taxi is a 40 billion rand industry in South Africa which employs more than 600 thousand people who transport close to 15 million commuters a day. Commuters like my cousin who relies on minibus taxis to run their lives. “ We tried got a lift with someone but we couldn’t go any further because there were no taxis to take us where I wanted to go”
This year has not been an easy one for my cousin and I understand why today of all days she would want to be out of her house and be far away from the place which has become a constant reminder of the new gaping hole in her heart.
Her 14-year-old son whom she affectionately called her “husband” is not home or in School. It will be the first time today in 14 years that she celebrates her birthday without him. He will never grow old enough to sit for his final school exams like hundreds of Matric students who have been left in the lurch and forced to take alternative transport because of today’s strike.
He won’t be there because he died on a train. While train surfing one afternoon in June. His first time riding on top in instead of staff riding. “I used to wonder why his takkies got worn off so quickly,” she told me. “ I used to ask him why were his shoes like this, soccer, he would answer,” She said she wondered what kind of soccer obliterates the soles of his shoes to paper, what kind of soccer makes shoes like this? “Kanti, he was train surfing” She had no idea of his extramural activities and his love for speed. “he was such a beautiful, obedient child”
So, she won’t be taking a train today or in the near future. She has to wait until Saturday to celebrate her new life when the strike is over. Because unlike two of my friends, taking a cab, a meter taxi, Uber or Taxify is not an option for her.
But life is not so simple for my friends either both of them single working mothers who live on the other side of town. They too are trapped between warring factions. They are forced to do business as if they were criminals.
This after drivers for Uber and the Estonian start-up Taxify operating in Johannesburg and Pretoria faced threats and protest from regular taxi operators who accuse the app-based drivers of poaching customers with cheaper fares.
Three cars were torched and Uber and Taxify drivers are being constantly harassed by maxi-cab drivers blocking them for picking up customers at airports and shopping centres around Johannesburg.
My friends insist on using Uber and Taxify because they are better more efficient options to the lack-lustre service provided by meter cab drivers over the years. They are often notoriously late, old and rickety and often overcharge their customers.
Now they have to hide or wait for hours just to get from A to B. To run errands, take kids to school, get groceries, while pregnant. The story of moving in Post Apartheid South Africa for them is not just about going from A to B. It’s also about power and gender.
It infringes on the women’s personal safety when maxi-cab drivers threaten them, stopping them from taking a ride of their choice. Hating them for being women who speak out, who want to exercise their right to choose. ” who do you think you are” they say “I don’t take instructions from a woman” they insist. Today South African women, like in the past, once again have to ask for permission to live.
To move and breathe in a bit of fresh air.
It’s the little things that get to you in a time of war.
It’s the little things that ignite a fury.
It’s the littlest of things.