How to Travel by Minibus Taxi at FIFA 2010
If you’re planning on visiting South Africa one thing that could make getting around that much easier is traveling by minibus taxi. After you’ve descended from the skies, caught a shuttle or ordinary taxi to your lodgings, getting around town is done fastest and cheapest by using minibus taxis. That’s because the country, generally, does not have a very good inner city transport infrastructure.
Surviving a Minibus Taxi Ride
Minibus taxis are typically white Toyota transporters with bright livery, and sometimes with thumpingly loud hip hop or kwaito (local black) music playing. They are mostly used by daily commuters from the black township or ghetto dormitory areas. But for surviving a minibus taxi ride there are a few things worth knowing: first is that there is a complex set of hand and finger signs to indicate to a taxi driver either your specific destination or the distance you with to travel. Some are universal, while others are very local. For example, hold your index finger up and it means you wish to go to town (the centre). Point it down and it means you want a local taxi to go somewhere close. This applies all over the country.
Okay, that’s a local joke: so where to? Soweto. But it gets more complicated. For instance, if you wanted to go to Diepsloot to the north west of Joburg, you’d make a wavy motion with your hand to indicate the notoriously bad roads there. Fourways is four fingers held up, Thembisa is a T, as in time out, Cosmo City in Soweto is a cupped hand C. And so on.
However, for the foreign mzungus waving soccer paraphernalia, the drivers will be much more tolerant. Just wave one down, anywhere (there are few designated stopping places, but traffic lights are best), and they are sure to stop for you.
Getting off is another matter. Unless you know you’re in a taxi on a bespoke route, for example headed for one of the stadiums, you have to shout to the driver where you want to get off, about 10 seconds beforehand (this is rather important). means you want to get off at the next traffic light. Or else just shout stop and the driver will stop whenever next he can.
While regular commuters are charged a set fee of around R5 or R10, depending on the distance, casual travelers can be charged randomly and tourists are always targets, even white South Africans, for making a quick extra buck. Knowing the going rate is a good starting point for negotiating. But irrespective of the fare, it’s still going to the cheapest and fastest way to get somewhere.
Other than in the stadium crowds, catching a minibus taxi is the closest you’ll come to mixing with the locals. It’s a vibrant and very African experience.