Although this place was created for me and people like me, I was once scared of walking here alone. I was 17 when I first took a Taxi all by myself. I had done this once before, but I was about eight years old and my mother was with me. The day I took the Taxi alone, I was in my high school uniform, a so-called Model C school and I remember sitting in the Taxi with a few kids from the secondary school down the road from where I lived. It felt like I stood out and my confusion and shyness did not help me it just highlighted the fact that I was not familiar with Taxi-etiquette, but like the kids from the secondary school I also needed public transport.
So, let me tell you something about the Stellenbosch Taxi-etiquette, the Taxi driver can pick-up two to four more passengers than the amount that they can carry. In other words, ignore the big sign that says: “certified to carry up to 16 passengers”. Secondly if you’re petite or just skinnier than the rest of the people in the Taxi, you will be expected to sit in the most uncomfortable places or to stand in the passage, but you are more likely to be squeezed into a tight space. Thirdly, do not pay with a R50 or R100 early in the morning. The taxi gaatjie (guard) or sliding-door-operator, as they like to call themselves, will look annoyed and you might end up with 40 one rands for change. There is no room for shy, sturvy people in a taxi. You will be drawn into random people’s conversations and you will sit next to a drunk person who smells like cheap wine at least once a week. Lastly, we all notice the odd ones out and the passengers in the Taxi can have a coded conversation without the “odd one” noticing it. There are a few more favors that we as regular customers get to access, like being picked up at your doorstep, having a seat reserved for you and so on.
The Stellenbosch Taxi rank and the surrounding area.
I always had my phone in a little sling bag and when I got out of the Taxi I clinged onto my bag a little tighter, speed-walking and avoiding eye-contact with most people. Ignoring catcalls and getting away from that area in town was my only mission.
The Taxi rank is a crowded place, with up to 300 Taxis who can carry 16 passengers each (or even 20), so if all of them only drove twice a day there would be at least 9600 people passing through the Taxi rank per day. The Taxi rank became a prime economic center and thus we have so many informal brokers and even bigger franchises like King Pie, Romans and a variety of other businesses, who use the Taxi Rank to sell or advertise their products and services by handing out pamphlets and freebies. The area around the Taxi rank is also created for the taxi passenger, who is most likely a working class or middle-class citizen without private transport. The shops around the Taxi rank are low cost shops, starting on the opposite corner of Bird street and Merriman avenue there is a wholesaler, who sells things for quite cheap; a Chinese clothing store; a relatively cheap fast food restaurant; Choice clothing, a clothing store that sells the factory faults or reject clothing from other brands; there is a Pep, another cheap clothing store and then there is a Britos, a cheap meat shop. Then when you cross the road at the intersection by Crozier and Bird street you head to Jet an affordable clothing store and directly opposite jet you will find a bottle store, this explains why there is always drunk people at the Taxi rank.
The odd one out
When I was without my school uniform on, I blended in a bit more, because then I was just a colored girl and my privilege was not written all over my body. To explain this, I want to tell a story of two other girls in my school, Jade and Cara. Jade and Cara once took the Taxi with me, also in school uniform and because Cara was a white girl, when she got into the Taxi, no one really said something, but everyone just stopped and stared. This day I was not the odd one out anymore, nor was Jade, because Cara had more differences. The Taxi rank was created for everyone who need the Taxi services, but some people just stand out more than others.