Writing what we like by Yolisa Qunta

2016-06-20 10:02

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From the serious to the lighthearted, this book presents a snapshot of what smart young South Africans think about living in South Africa today. From black tax, lobola and whitesplaining, all the way to hip hop and kinky sex, it is provocative, fearlessly honest, and often very funny.

Read the book excerpt below.


I’m fully aware that Hollywood’s sole reason for existence is to sell us (unattainable) dreams, but I often find myself falling for them. Take, for instance, how taxis are depicted in movies. These gleaming yellow contraptions seem to ferry only good-looking types around New York (yes, always New York); generally, only one person occupies the taxi – two at most. Because of a sad series of events that left me without a

car, I was forced to take public transport. Within days, my ideas about New York taxis were shattered forever.

In South Africa, of course, the word ‘taxi’ means something completely different. Our taxis are minibuses built to transport a minimum of 16 people, but they usually transport anything from 20 to 25 passengers. They also gleam, mostly – likely because of the multiple layers of touch-up paint that are meant to cover innumerable dents from chasing up and down our roads like drivers from hell.

Allow me to share the following truths I have learnt about South African taxis:

1. Your personal what?

Forget the images of passengers reclining luxuriously in the back seat while gazing raptly at the bright lights of Times Square. Your reality will most likely be multiple strangers seated practically on top of you.

Taxi drivers have a healthy contempt for namby-pamby concepts such as personal space, and an equally brazen disregard for what the laws of physics dictate about how many human bodies can be squeezed into a limited amount of space. All you can do is hope, fervently, that your fellow passengers are well versed in the basics of personal hygiene.

2. He who holds the money, holds the power

Unless the driver has a gaardjie – a person who collects the fares and usually offers running commentary on everything from traffic to passengers – one of the passengers will be designated to collect all the money. Until every single penny of that money is accounted for, nobody is safe.

Your entire commute can be held up for 45 minutes because the driver is five bob short. Oh, and don’t try to hurry things along by offering to donate the missing money. This is deeply offensive to the driver’s pride – most revel in their reputations as tough, no-nonsense characters. It may also cast the suspicion that you are the culprit.

3. Disco nights

Whether you are in a brightly painted, souped-up taxi with a sound system whose bass dissolves your insides gently, or an ekasi taxi blasting mbaqanga, there are no limits to the genres of music to which you will be exposed.

Take a ride in to town to learn more about the latest local and overseas hits, or simply about the driver’s favourites.

Because the taxi is his mobile kingdom, the driver holds sway over the sound system. As supreme overlord of the vehicle, he also gets to choose which type of music to play and at what volume – usually one that will destroy your eardrums and definitely any hope of having a normal conversation with a fellow passenger. Passengers who try to object are immediately given the option of disembarking minus their fare.

But it’s not only the taxi driver with whom you have to contend. In the era of smartphones having turned everyone into virtual DJs, you are also subjected to the playlist of the brethren next to you for the duration of the journey. Before the advent of MP3s, I thought that being subjected to strangers’ conversations was bad enough.

Now my eardrums are tortured on the daily commute. I suspect my fellow passengers might be deaf, because I can hear every single tune from their headphones as it competes with the taxi’s tunes.

4. Let the stickers guide you

In a number of taxis, you’ll find stickers intended to inform and entertain you and, occasionally, to give insight into deep philosophical questions. They are short and to the point. Personally, I find them very amusing. If nothing else, they help you to avoid eye contact with undesirables and educate you about taxi etiquette.

5. Taxi Ubuntu

Taxi passengers usually take the concept of community very seriously. This means that, for the duration of the trip, your fellow commuters will make your business their business.

The earnest-looking person in the back seat will judge you harshly when you tell him that you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, don’t want to buy Herbalife, and are not interested in being hooked up with his nephew or in joining his stokvel.

Expect them to comment on how you did not run fast enough when the taxi stopped five kilometres away from where you were standing. Should you need to phone someone, the person sitting next to you will eavesdrop openly on your conversation.

If you think of taxi rides as an extreme form of boot camp that compresses all the life lessons you ever needed into one crowded, sweaty, loud ride, you could emerge from the experience a better person. Where else can you perfect your accounting skills, get up close and personal with strangers, dodge unsolicited advice and get a whirlwind tour of contemporary music all in one go?

Think of it as a temporary and unglamorous phase that will pass more quickly than you can imagine. One day you, too, will be whizzing past behind the wheel of your own car or be driven by a suited chauffeur – or possibly even skip traffic altogether and take the yacht.

Uber may be all the rage these days, but life in a taxi will always be more fun.

- Buy your copy of Writing what we like at any of the below retailers:

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