‘Hey, hey, hey! Everybody sit down now!’
Everyone turned to looked at Ben Martins, the Minister of Transport. For a while they gave him the blank stare, then eventually sat down, muttering under their breaths.
He waited until there was silence of a sort, then said. ‘Our beloved President, Jacob Zuma, promised to create jobs and that is what he has done, but this last bit of nonsense was unacceptable!’
‘Hey, what you mean, nonsense? Anybody can make a accident!’
‘Not that sort of accident. I know you were trained as taxi drivers, but you can’t just stop your train in the middle of nowhere to pick up passengers!’
Jacob stood up, shaking his head angrily. ‘They had their finger up…’ he made a sign ‘…like this. What must I do? They want to go to Naledi, I can’t just leave them there. And I put a sign on the back of my train: “Be careful, this train stops anywhere, anytime.” I did the right thing!’
‘And what about Hlompho and the six passengers who were injured?’ the Minister asked.
‘Hlompho can see my sign. Why didn’t he stop? You know why? Because he saw that I was picking up the passengers and there’s much more place on a train than a taxi. He was stupid, that’s all!’
The Minister shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter what you say, you were wrong. And you took money from those passengers you picked up. Railway passengers buy tickets, they don’t pay on the train.’
‘Eh eh eh, my friend, eh eh eh! That is where you are wrong. This people couldn’t buy tickets, why, because they were standing on the road!’ He looked at the other drivers who were nodding in agreement.
‘So where is that money, then? asked the Minister.
Jacob held up a bag. ‘Here it is. I pay you so much and so much and I keep the rest: that is the way it works.’
The Minister shook his head. ‘This is not how it works on the railways. We pay you a salary!’
Jacob shook his head and sighed in exasperation. ‘That salary is for the people what bought tickets. This is my money, because this people didn’t buy tickets!’
‘You can’t just stop the train and pick up passengers!’ the Minister half-shouted.
‘The passengers prefer it, because they say we don’t overtake each other and drive on the pavement.’
‘That’s because you’re on rails!
Jacob nodded. ‘Ya! That is why it is good and, don’t forget, we developed those routes.’
All the other drivers were agreeing volubly now. The Union representative stood up. ‘If this harassment of our drivers does not stop, we will be forced to go on strike. It will be a peaceful strike, but you know how some people like to throw stones and kill other people, but we will make it peaceful.’
The Minister rested his knuckles on the edge of the table, his head hanging down, then he looked up at them and glared. They stared right back at him, the blank gaze perfected over many centuries. He sighed. ‘You leave me no choice. I’m going to scrap the taxi airlines.’ And he picked up his file and left the room, the pandemonium growing ever louder and more vociferous the further away he got.
There, that would show them!