This post is about South Africa. I tell many stories of the 18 years I lived in South Africa, most of which is true. Possibly one of the most bizarre tales I have to tell is of the South African taxis.
A “Taxi” is not really a taxi in the traditional sense of the word. It’s actually a hi-ace kombi van, designed to seat about 15 people, plus the driver. South African taxi drivers are well renowned for their selective application of the road code and their proclivity for dangerously overloading their taxis. It’s not uncommon to see a broken down beat-up old vehicle with almost no suspension, tailgate scraping on the tarmac and the door opening automatically, not due to any clever electronics, but courtesy of the fact that it is tied on with rope (I have seen this).
The image above is borrowed with permission from Mike Gerhardt (flickr).
I have fond memories of the road into Durban, there was always a lot of traffic on the highway, all trying to squeeze into the city during rush hour. As one would expect, the traffic was slowest just before a major onramp where flows of traffic merge “like a zip”. The taxis, obviously impatient at all this traffic, would drive on the shoulder of the highway and cut ahead of all the other vehicles. This turned the onramp from two flows of traffic into three, ironically slowing the traffic even more.
But taxis were more of a cultural experience than just creating interesting traffic patterns. The reason no one (including the police) challenged these creative drivers is they were probably carrying an AK47 or shotgun onboard. Or possibly a Molotov cocktail. Why? Well, the taxi wars of course.
The rapid deregulation of the taxi industry in 1987, combined with the political unrest of the late 80’s through 90’s made the taxi industry a violent, criminal, mafia-like industry. Taxi drivers banded together into local associations, which, in turn, formed national associations. These associations were often split across tribal/political party lines (such as the ANC & IFP) and it was not uncommon for drivers from one faction to go ahead and murder drivers and passengers from a rival company. The taxi wars are raging to this day.
The image above is courtesy of Lebogang Nkoane (flickr).
When I was about to write this blog post I, obviously, looked up information about the taxi wars on Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I found there was none. So, I created an article and published it here: Taxi Wars in South Africa. He’s hoping no one edits it too brutally.