South Africa's minibus taxi drivers have a bad reputation for dangerous driving and violence. They sometimes fight each other for control of routes and beat passengers who do not pay. Sibongile Tunce, a driver for six years in Cape Town, explains his day.
“I start at 3.00am, when I get up to collect the bus from the owner. I always travel the same route from Khayelitsha [township] to Bellville and back. It takes 15 minutes each way. The morning rush hour is the busiest time when the bus fills quickly."
“My bus takes 14 passengers and it costs 11.50 rand (about $1.50) each. The passenger who sits in the front seat collects the money. It saves time instead of doing it at the taxi rank, so they don't mind.”
Mr Tunce keeps a knobkerrie (wooden club) on his dashboard. “If someone doesn’t pay, I’m going to take a stick and beat him - because my owner will sack me if I don’t have the full fares.”
But he says there is now little violence in the minibus taxi trade, despite its bad image. “There are no guns in the rank.” At Bellville station after the initial morning rush, it is time for breakfast.
While the drivers wait for the next load, they chat and joke together and socialise with vendors. “My nickname here is Big Show, after a wrestler,” says Mr Tunce, who is married and has one child.
He says there is a lot of distrust about a proposed transport system which would make taxi operators form two companies for the whole city. At the moment drivers only ply one route and each rank has it own association.
To stop arguments, each driver is given a number when he arrives at the rank and must wait his turn. Police also often stop the minibuses on the road to check their permits and to see if they are carrying fire extinguishers.
The frequent checks make drivers feel hassled.“The police make the passengers late,” says Mr Tunce. On some routes, owners chose to have a tout, like the 18 year old above, to drum up business and collect fares.
The buses only leave when full. Mr Tunce gets 25% of his bus owner’s takings, about 1,000 rand a week. “I work seven days: no work, no pay and no injury time." Last year after an accident, he was off for seven months.
“I lost control of the bus after a tyre burst; it went into a tree. I had no passengers,” he recalls. He recuperated for some of the time at his mother’s home in Eastern Cape, where he usually goes for a week at Christmas.
Mr Tunce knocks off at about 7pm, after three or four trips. “If I could get training, one day I would like to be a mechanic – that is my talent,” he says. But with little free time or money, he doubts it will be possible. By Lucy Fleming, BBC News
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