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Sipho Maga
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The Nightmare of Being In An SA Taxi!

25 June 2012, 19:10

The all divine move by our beloved president Jacob Zuma to get into a public train was a refreshing public relations move that saw him revert to his ‘people’s leader’ ways that made many literally sing his praises.

I hoped that he would have extended his journey to the taxi ranks to experience the realities that characterise the cultural reality of the South African taxi industry and the commuters that use it.

Ofcourse he might have missed it, because he is a man, and he is a traditionalist who fearlessly stands up for conservative values and ideals, and precisely because of such a character he gets the comfortable hypothetical seat.

But for many others who do not fit this description, particulary women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender commuters, the dread of using taxis to commute to work every day is endured with distress and reflects a frightening reality of continuing harassment from taxi industry labour personnel.

For anyone who has ever used taxis to travel, it is an accepted fact that taxi drivers are rude and ruthless, practice unprecedented false authorities and treat passengers as if they are garbage every day. Countless stories are told every day by taxi using South Africans of agonies dealt, intimidation and utter disrespect and harassment they experience daily, as would attest Ukhozi fm’s Dudu Khoza, amongst others who have dared let the public reveal their untold suffering.

Whilst the local government is doing its fragile bit to protect the taxi using South African public, taxis and taxi ranks remain places where human dignity and rights are trashed arrogantly, harassment and torture reign supreme, leaving such a public fearful and unsafe whilst using a taxi.

There are many social ills that South Africa is confronted with that prevail in this context, such as crime, but I focus on how the public is treated.

As has been discussed, the public using taxis is indiscriminately subject to potential derogation, but other social groups appear to suffer condescending and psychologically, even physically abusive confrontations more disproportionately than others. These are such as women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person, whom will be referred to as LGBTs from now onward.

Such that I feel outraged by the stench prevalence of misogyny and homophobia, amongst other things in the context of taxis and taxi ranks.

Whether the South African public themselves are innocent in displaying such discriminating and prejudicial behaviour is just as essential and important for theoretical discourse, but what truly bothers me is that the personnel responsible for public transportation of South Africans whose constitution protects their dignity and enforces their rights disregard such rights with enthusiasm.

The frequency at which stories of how women are humiliated for representing themselves in a manner that challenges the conservative and stagnant traditional values such as wearing a short skirt has been accelerating so rapidly that such stories are receiving less and less attention in the media for their reduced sensational appeal.

Similarly, the blatant and arrogant homophobic behaviour displayed by taxi drivers has assimilated itself into a common standard and reality taken for granted to be the culture of the taxi rank the public must accept and deal with daily. These persons are continuously treated with such appalling disrespect and harassment.

While the focus on the harsh realities of the taxi industry and its commuting public continues to get minimal attention from human rights, woman and LGBT rights organisations and the government. The truth is, anyone who uses taxis everyday has a couple hundred stories of how they get bossed around by taxi drivers from time to time.

The taxi rank is a different place. Such that stepping from the city into the taxi rank, a different atmosphere transpires that necessitates one to watch their step. You do not dare upset the driver. Watch your laugh, watch what you wear, watch your feminine disposition.

It truly is as if the commuters are at the mercy of the taxi drivers. Perhaps they are, seeing that stepping into a taxi rank is stepping into another state, completely not governed by the constitution that insists on dignity.

In this state, call it St Boss Island, traditional values are enforced with such arrogant conviction so that, through the manifestation of the false macho disposition, anyone who in character gravitates away from these values is met with harsh rejection and explicit humiliation.

We call it public transport where in actual fact taxis are a private industry. The public pays cash only to receive the most atrocious of customer services. Imagine if walking into a grocery store the cashiers started whistling if you were wearing a short skirt and started following you, questioning your dignity, or if a gay man walked into a bank only to be met by torrential insulting epithets by the bankers.

While this would make sense in some ridiculous world, such as a bank in St Boss Island, where getting bossed around with intense disrespect and disregard for your rights is the norm, in South Africa, everyone is regarded equal.

The excuse would be that the taxi industry is much less formal than the other examples and therefore such behaviour should not be a surprise. This would be a frivolous way of looking at it.First; taxi industry is as formal and organised as ever. People pay and acceptable services and professionalism should be granted without negotiation.

Secondly if it not formal enough, make it more formal. One of the ways would be through brief educational programmes that seek to reverse this kind of jungle behaviour.

These are people we are talking about, not just objectified and faceless passengers. On the one hand, the phenomenon of taxi ranks being such homes for the most intense human rights violations and enforcement of traditional, misogonistic and homophobic behaviour  should be open for more discourse, on the other; taxi drivers are rude and that is simply unacceptable! More should be done to condemn this and insist upon human rights.

The bone to pick is in the hands of the government and human rights groups for continuing to ignore and failing to acknowledge the prevalence of human rights violations that characterise this industry.

The message is that because you cannot afford your own car and the Gautrain, you are the worthless, none significant citizen who is susceptible to abuse on such a large scale.

The message continues to imply that while poor South Africans were treated with such humiliation in Apartheid, this humiliation continues rigidly into the new era, in conjunction with the enforcement of other people’s values down our throats. We are being told that, while people from other parts of the world enjoy professional transportation services, we, South Africans should be so be okay with garbage.

The constitution is being undermined and this should stop. If the president wishes to understand the true nature of public transport, he should open a web page so that people will crash the servers with high traffic. Something must change, stop St Boss Island.

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