A taxi driver in Berlin started a conversation about the state of South African politics. He is from Ethiopia, seems to be in his early sixties, wears a cabbie cap and a matching leather jacket – completing his 1970s disco funk look.He resembles Giancarlo Esposito, the Danish-born American actor famous for his roles in many Spike Lee films. So, let’s call him Giancarlo since I did not ask for his name.I hastily stopped him in front of a hotel, just across the road from the Berlin Mall. It was a busy Saturday afternoon. Main roads in the city were closed to traffic as a result of a roller blade race that day and the Berlin marathon the following day – which also happened to be election day.“How is South Africa?” Giancarlo asked in a pleasantly casual tone. Only his face betrayed the deep sincerity with which he seemed to regard the subject. My response was a little guarded as I’m keenly aware that conversations about South Africa tend to revolve mainly around politics. And I was not about to air my grievances about the toxic nature of politics in my country. Frankly, I would rather avoid that.But being in the front seat of the taxi created this space that did not allow me to opt out of a conversation. I told him that South Africa was doing relatively well, given the sluggish economic growth all over the world.“No, I do not mean that. How is your president?” Giancarlo chimed in again. I told him President Jacob Zuma is in his last term of office and his focus is on the legacy he wants to leave behind.But he seemed dissatisfied with my answer and said: “How many wives does he have? Four or five? Is he still giving corrupt money to that Indian family?”Right there, I knew where the conversation was going and it was a little awkward to bash my country in front of a stranger. So I kept quiet and allowed him to continue.“It is not right what is happening there in South Africa and the whole world is watching. It sends a very wrong message about African leaders. It is not right. It is sad,” he said.He decried the fact that a leader of Nelson Mandela’s stature was replaced by “someone like Zuma”. “It is sad for the people especially because many come from such a brutal history under apartheid and the government should be using the tax money to change their lives and not put it in the pockets of the Guptas,” he said.By this time I was visibly embarrassed and I think he noticed. He started talking about how the road closures were making it difficult to take the shortest route to my hotel, near the Alexanderplatz. When we arrived, the trip cost me €11.50 (R183), which I quickly paid and got out.