Taxi bosses in South Africa have a lot of power and they wielded it cruelly against their customers this week, once again. I had a small taste of what it is like for our compatriots who must live in faraway townships when I took our housekeeper home during a taxi strike, a 2-and-a-half hour 17.7km trip to Nyanga.
The two of us and another two women we picked up on the way saw plenty of the misery, discomfort and frustration caused by the strike called abruptly by the National Taxi Council (Santaco), whose website laughably describes it as “the engine of the nation”.
No minibus taxis, South Africa’s most common form of commuter transport, meant that people were crammed into buses that crawled along in traffic that was absolutely gridlocked, thanks to taxi blockades on highways and byways.
We drove past hundreds of people trudging wearily along to their faraway homes, leaning on sticks and carrying babies and bags, on our journey that would normally take less than 20 minutes.
The Golden Arrow buses we saw were a sometimes worse picture, with people piled on top of one another and crammed in using every last inch of space, even on the bottom step against the doors. We knew that many of them would be thinking of the danger of the bus being torched.
The City Council must surely take some blame, too, for its approach. Taking on the taxi industry by impounding vehicles just seems to be poking the bear. They get to poke from a distance, though, since they are not in the cage/taxi with this bear.
Of course, everyone who must risk their lives in taxis daily wants them to be roadworthy and safe. For most, there is no alternative to those long and dangerous daily trips between work and homes in far-flung “locations”, a legacy of apartheid spatial planning, since no Uber would dare to venture there.
Every other driver, passenger and pedestrian who must share the roads with lunatic taxi drivers also wants them and their clapped-out death traps to be subject to the same rules of the road as the rest of us.
But surely there is another way to enforce the rules of the road than this declaration of war between the City and the taxi bosses with the passengers stuck in the middle, as usual.