The most common trend ekasi (in townships) is young boys joining the cab industry as drivers, aka, amaphela. Unfortunately for many, their dreams of a decent living are dashed as they become victims of abuse at the hands of their bosses for various reasons. Live investigates.
Like other young boys who become taxi drivers in order to escape poverty or crime in their areas, Mongezi Thwala*, an 18 year old from Philippi (a township on the outskirts of Cape Town), earns his bread as an ‘amaphela’ driver. In suburbs they are called cabs, but because most of them are old and often not road worthy, in township-lingo they’re called ‘amaphela’ (cockroach). Mongezi opened up to Live about his near death experience when his taxi bosses beat him to a pulp, resulting in him spending two weeks at Tygerberg Hospital.
“When I first started working for this guy, he told me that I should return his car at the end of every shift, which is usually around 10 pm at night,” said Mongezi, still covered in bandages. On the night of the incident he decided to visit his friends in Delft before returning the car; a terrible miscalculation. “We were sitting inside my friend’s house until about 10:30 when I was about to leave. When I got outside, the car wasn’t there.” Ashen faced, he got on the phone and called his boss and told him what had happened. He decided to sleep over at his friend’s house; with the intention of going to the police station the next morning with his boss to report the car stolen.
“Umlungu (the boss) called me in the morning and I took a taxi to his house. When I arrived, there were other taxi bosses and they told me to get into another car.” They then drove him to his boss’s office at the taxi terminus. “They started asking me questions and no matter how much I explained what had happened, they said I was lying and they started beating me up,” he recalled, tears welling up in his eyes. According to Mongezi, the bosses took turns beating him with iron bars, knobkerries and sjamboks. “They even burnt my private parts with boiling water,” he says, still in anguish and reeling from the pain of the ordeal.
After they had finished, they took him to the police station, where they laid a charge of car theft against him. “The police took me to hospital and after two weeks they returned and told me the charges had been dropped because they found the car.” Mongezi is back at his mother’s house, recovering from the beating.
“There’s nothing we can do about it because these taxi bosses are even feared by the police. That’s why they do as they please to our children!” exclaimed a distraught Nobesuthu Mudau, Mongezi’s mother.
In 2011, Mabhuti Phakthi’s* home in Nyanga was vandalised and he was shot in the leg by vengeful taxi bosses. ”They got here one morning and started breaking windows and furniture, saying that Mabhuti had run away with R10 000 and his boss’s firearm,” Mabhuti’s grandmother said. “The police came but left again when the taxi bosses told them to stay out of their business”. She pleaded with the bosses after the ordeal to extend a hand of mercy to Mabhuti, but they told her that they didn’t want to see him anywhere in Cape Town again, and that if they did, they would kill him. Ever since the incident, the 20-year-old has been living in the Eastern Cape.
”These boys are criminals” said a taxi boss from Nyanga, Mr Gaba*. “Some of them have
been to jail for theft, murder and armed robberies. Now, they approach us saying that they need jobs while they know that somewhere along the line they will go back to their criminal activities. I’m a parent, I cannot just beat up another person’s child for nothing, especially if that child had been helping me in my business.” He added that although there have been cases of taxi bosses giving bad beatings and the police not doing their job, that it wasn’t his place to answer for them. ” I can’t answer for other people; I answer for myself and my business.”
The South African Police Services (SAPS) declined to comment.
Mongezi is currently looking for another job but he’s sworn never again to work as a taxi driver. “Taxi bosses are cruel, they don’t appreciate what we do for them, instead they thank us by spitting on us.” He also warned other young people who plan on becoming taxi drivers by saying, ”you’ll only be safe there if your family member is a boss, otherwise they tell you that they are not your parents and they will beat the s*** out of you.”
The routes of these taxi drivers include Gugulethu, New Crossroads, Lower Crossroads, Luzuko and Nyanga. Days start from about 4.30 am and end whenever they make their target, usually around 9pm.
Car owners set the targets, usually between R450 to about R750 (depending on the car size). All profits must be given to the car owner. Owners give the young drivers a portion, usually between R120 and R2oo; the amount depends on if the owner thinks the driver abused petrol-use.
Duties: to transport people to and from the above mentioned routes, for a payment of R6, often in un-roadworthy vehicles and without a drivers license (or any licensed driver present). This can lead to court appearances and even jail time.
A majority of these young drivers are high-school dropouts, with some not even having completed primary school education. For some, taxi-driving is a means of supporting an alcohol or drug addiction, but for others it’s their only way of clothing themselves, putting their younger siblings through school and avoiding going to bed with a hungry stomach.
Writer: Nana Futshane