My hero, the taxi conductor

2008-01-22 00:00

I used to watch him closely, his every move and gesture. I was intrigued by the aggressive way in which he spoke, asserting his dominance over his territory. He was the king of his castle and the kind of person who had his own rules, unlike my nine-year-old self.

This new character in the plot of my life-story was the minibus-taxi conductor, simply known as us’caba, meaning the door boy, by blacks and the conduy by the other (am I allowed to say not so black?) non-whites.

The minibus taxi is a mode of public transport used by many South Africans since the mid-eighties. The conductor operates the door of a minibus-taxi; collects the fare and tells the driver where a passenger wishes to get off.

Having been used to being chauffeured to school by my now estranged dad, I was anxious about this new mode of transport but found it interesting. I admired the conductor’s mathematical abilities among other things.

In 1989 the fee was about 60c for an Imbali 1 and Imbali 2 taxi. I took note then that the fee was always similar to the price of bread and that even then it was seen as expensive. The conductor guy knew that if he was given R5 as payment for four people the change was R2,60. He knew all kinds of variations and sometimes I would calculate mentally just to see if I was right and I think this prepared me for the three and four times tables at school. I gradually started to enjoy this, especially as the fare increased and the calculations got more complicated.

The conductor had countless masks and as many, seldom happy, backgrounds. It was usually a boy who couldn’t afford to go to school and who had to support himself and sometimes his family.

The age group of a conductor can range from 10 years old to 50 years old. In fact, some of my friends in the nineties were conductors after school, on weekends and during the school holidays. My mother would have killed me if I even asked.

Being a conductor meant and still means standing in a very uncomfortable position from about 4 am to 7 pm, or later. There is relief after 8 am when most people are at work and at school but that means hanging out of the window on the way to town shouting at the top of your voice: “Town … thawini”.

My least favourite conductor is an easy one. He was one of many who graduated to being a driver without doing what needed to be done in order to transport the public. He, in a drunken state on the first of a particular January, caused a horrific accident involving my “ou lady”, some other people and myself.

He has been forgiven by now, but he taught my family about what it really means to have medical aid and about the Road Accident Fund. Do they always award money to medical aids on behalf of the victim and not to the victim? That conductor cost us more money than he will ever make in his lifetime.

I have a favourite conductor of all time — well actually it’s a tie but one of them would be too obvious. There was this middle-aged man who was a conductor. Word was that he had been retrenched and had been given a package with which he’d bought a minibus taxi although he did not have a driver’s licence. He found a driver and made a living as a conductor that way. I had such a deep respect for that man.

I could have said that the point of this article is to enlighten but, actually, I am just reminiscing about what was almost my first job.

However, along with you I anticipate the solutions that will come with imminent change in the public transport industry. The conductor already doesn’t exist in many cities. Will he still have a job?

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