Sibongile Mafu

Public transport chronicles

2013-07-03 14:31

Sibongile Mafu

Several weeks ago I was involved in a peak time fender bender with another woman who was in a car much bigger than my mine. She bashed into me while attempting to change lanes, walking away with a small scratch on her bumper, whilst my little car Lily, was left whimpering and disfigured and in need of urgent attention.

I drove Lily around for a little while, and just last week her cosmetic surgery appointment arrived, and I left her there, knowing I'd see her soon, and knowing I'd need to familiarise myself with public transportation yet again.

When I first moved to Cape Town exactly two years ago this month, I discovered and explored the city through the public transport system. I'd hustle onto a near-full taxi and by near-full I mean over-capacity, and navigate my way through this new city that had adopted me.

Now don't get me wrong. I grew up in Port Elizabeth on public transport. Throughout high school I would wake up religiously at 05:00 like some kind of breakfast show radio host, to be at the bus by 06:00; any later and I'd be late for school. This was the routine I knew and not-so-well-serviced buses and taxis was how I thought the most logical way to move around life was.

I always felt like I had a story to share about the people I commuted with. It sharpened my storytelling skills, and I felt like a more interesting person when I was physically around other people, and not in a private vehicle. My days were rich with experiences, and filled with quirky, unpredictable characters going about their lives.

When I eventually did get my own car, all of the stories that stimulated me and added an idiosyncrasy to my day vanished. All I had now were traffic stories and a cubby-hole filled with windscreen flyers. I had the company of my broken radio during my 15 minute drive to work, and besides the occasional distracted wave to a fellow motorist; my travelling time became a very beige experience.

I lost a significant amount of what made my mornings and my late afternoons a beautifully random experience. The old woman taking the snotty, biscuit-eating toddler to crèche, the man who had little sleep and many drinks the night before and was diligently going to work, the schoolgirls whose oily new hairstyles would disturb the windows and upset the driver, as well as the people who'd have Niknaks for breakfast making sure my day started with a whiff of cheesy goodness every morning were now all gone.

These would all be characters that you grew used to in your public transport routine and you somewhat miss when you acquired a shiny new driver's licence and moved on out of that world.

Yes, there were moments while travelling that I feared for my and life, and moments where random hands would touch my leg and face (no one likes a steaming cup of sexual harassment in the morning quite like me), but that aside, a lot of the people I encountered were charismatic, charming folk who would threaten your life if you didn't greet them back when you entered that taxi.

It was a family on wheels and one that I think, even now that I have a car, I'll occasionally go back to. The people I encountered are the stuff great books and stories are made from and if I completely take that away from my life, I’m robbing myself.

This could have easily been about how awful taxis are and how shoddy the public transport system is in this country is, which is all true, but in amongst all that ugliness there are great little moments that make you laugh until you cry with strangers you can’t wait to see again.

*This piece has absolutely nothing to do with the petrol price hike.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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