Taxi At Soweto

(Most of the humour collected here is in the public domain, unless otherwise specified.)

Togetherness Tshabalala jinks his Toyota Hi-Ace minibus (with BMW hub caps) through the rush-hour traffic, occasionally using the pavement.

Togetherness is a confident man of high spirits, as evidenced by the stickers on his rear window: GOD LOVES TAXI DRIVERS – DEFEAT CONSTIPATION – TRAVEL BY TAXI

On the front of his taxi, between a large dent which, ominously, is in the shape of a large traffic cop, and the holes from a small spray of bullets, is a lurid notice reading: JUKSKEI PARK EXPRESS INAUGURAL FLIGHT. Using the word “flight” is Togetherness’s little joke. What we are witnessing is the inaugural leg of what is hopefully to become a daily service between Jukskei Park and Johannesburg – a 25 km journey which takes 10,5 minutes; less if the traffic lights are in his favour.

The percussion waves from Togertherness’s powerful radio – he is playing guns and Roses’ latest 120-decibel hit (Ten times a night or something) – pushes back the early mist. He hoots as he drives. Togetherness hoots at anything he sees – including trees – as is the custom of his people.

Aboard the taxi are a dozen white people. They do not come whiter than this. They are Omo washing powder white. Their pallor is not due to fear. It is due to stark terror. Take John Hilton. Never in his life has he done 0 to 100 km / h in six seconds – not in heavy traffic. Denise Smith’s colour has changed from green-white to a sort of waxen ivory as quickly as the last traffic light had changed to red – a colour which, as is traditional among taxi drivers, Togetherness ignored. He looks over his shoulder – for a full minute – asking passengers their destinations. Elsbeth Brown, sitting right at the back, takes the opportunity to say “Randburg centre” even though she works in Johannesburg. Randburg was coming up fast and it suddenly seemed near enough for her. She worries about how she will make her way to the front – but only fleetingly because the taxi has now reached Randburg and Togetherness has stopped. He has stopped as suddenly as a plane might stop up against a mountain.

Now EVERYBODY is at the front in a warm, intimate heap. Elisbeth alights as gracefully as anybody can with one knee locked behind the other. She is vaguely aware of passers-by loosening her clothing and shouting “Give her air!” Togetherness bowls happily along Jan Smuts Avenue, overtaking a police BMW which is chasing a getaway car. Then he overtakes the getaway car, exchanging boisterous greetings with the driver whom he seems to know.

Togetherness is steering with his elbows because he needs his hands free to check the morning’s takings and to wave to girls on the pavement. He announces “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We will shortly be landing in Johannesburg. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your seats in the upright position. Thank you.

So tightly is John Hilton gripping the seat in front that he notices his finger tips have gone clear through the back. Piet Smit is chewing on a seatbelt which, curiously, is made of leather. Togetherness had them specially made because he noticed how white passengers often like to bite on something. A passing taxi fires a brief burst from an automatic in his direction. Togetherness now reaches the city and merges with the in-bound traffic like his ancestors merged with the British at Isandlwana. He stops at his usual disembarkation point in the middle of an intersection and picks his teeth patiently while people sort out their legs and teeth before groping their way towards a pole around which they can throw their arms. By the time his passengers’ eyeballs have settled back in their parent sockets, Togetherness is halfway back to Jukskei Park….