By Daniel Jung, KF15, South Africa
Oh, the excitement I felt once I confirmed my Kiva Fellowship for South Africa, one of the world’s great travel destinations. I immediately imagined myself in one of South Africa’s tourist attractions: in Cape Town, under the shadow of Table Mountain; in Johannesburg, South Africa’s hub of business and culture; or maybe even South African wine country! Mmm, not exactly. I am most definitely, positively not near one of South Africa’s main travel destinations. Instead, I am in Richards Bay. Here’s a description of Richards Bay in The Lonely Planet’s Guide to South Africa:
“The industrial port of Richards Bay is a mass of modern suburbia, aluminium smelters and a web of roads linking very little. It’s included here for two reasons: many people fly in and out of Richards Bay Airport, as do many bird species(.)”
Sheesh. Sure, it’s a sleepy town with little to do, but it’s not THAT bad. The weather is nice. There is a beach. The only thing that has been particularly painful for every Kiva Fellow that has served in Richard’s Bay is the lack of public transportation. Hitching a ride is too dangerous. Taking metered, private taxis or renting a car is expensive and adds up very quickly. Other than buying some form of transportation or walking alongside vast expanses of arterial roads with thundering trucks hauling coal, there are no solid options for getting around town or out of town. I thought I was doomed until, one day, I took a bush taxi with my co-workers and discovered that it is not only a really cheap form of transport but also one of the most interesting things to do in Richards Bay. Sometimes, riding in bush taxis can even be classified as exciting, particularly if the driver has been drinking (somewhat frequent) or if the taxi feels like it will fall apart with the slightest bump (very frequent).
As a sort of handy guide for all Kiva Fellows to follow me in South Africa, travelers who are stranded in this “mass of modern suburbia,” and future civilizations studying systems of transport in this region, I’ve created a handy video guide to taking bush taxis using a typical trip that Onica (my neighbor and co-worker at the MFI I work with) and I take to get to work in the morning.
(Side note: Please excuse the poor video. When posting videos on the Kiva Fellows Blog, we try to preserve the anonymity of innocent passer-byers who may not want to appear on the internet, so I’ve tried very hard to avoid people’s faces.)
The video below shows Onica and me flagging down a taxi on the side of the road near our apartment complex. In the video, notice the hand signal that Onica makes, which communicates to the driver where we want to go. Pointing downwards and making a small circle with her finger indicates that we are staying local and would like to be dropped off at the central taxi rank. Pointing away from the ground towards any other direction indicates that we are trying to leave Richards Bay in the direction the taxi is moving. Here, we get lucky, and the first taxi that sees us pulls over to pick us up.
Now at the central taxi rank, we must find the taxi that will take us to work. The taxis are pretty well organized, although on this particular day, the taxi is parked in the wrong spot, causing a little confusion, but we found the taxi after asking around.
Waiting. And waiting. The taxi will not budge until every single seat is filled. Onica and I were one of the first people to arrive, so we had to wait until other people came who were headed in the same direction, which only took about 25 minutes. On other days, I’ve waited hours to leave. Taxis typically carry around 13 to 15 passengers, including two people crammed into the front seat. The seat next to me that I lower is the last seat to be filled until we can leave.
And we’re off! Paying in a bush taxi can be a complicated affair. Passengers sitting in the same row pool their money, and pass it forwards toward the front seat. The two passengers sitting in the front have the unenviable duty of making sure that all parties get the correct change back. Once this has been sorted, the passengers pass money back until everyone has received the correct change. When I first witnessed this payment system, I was struck by the number of things that could go wrong: the person sitting upfront could subtract incorrectly or try to steal money; change could drop on the floor and be lost; passengers could try to get away without paying; etc. Despite this, I’ve never witnessed an argument about people receiving incorrect change on a bush taxi, which is pretty incredible.
In the video below, Onica and I are sitting in the second row, so people are passing money to us to hand forward to the man sitting in the front seat. Each passenger pays R 6.00 (about $0.90), no matter how long he or she is riding in the taxi. On this particular trip, the driver didn’t have enough small bills, so we had to stop at a gas station for him to break a R 50.00.'
We finally reach our destination. Door to door, the trip took an hour, which is about average. The WDB office is on the second floor of the brick building across the street. The video cuts off, but don’t worry, Onica makes it across the street without being hit by a car.
Daniel Jung is a member of KF15 and works with Women’s Development Businesses (WDB) in Richards Bay, South Africa. For m