Everyone who has stayed in Gaborone or in any other metropolis in the world knows the importance of a taxi driver, especially if you do not have wheels of your own. But even if you do, there are days that you just might find yourself needing one.
However, we also know how the same people we so desperately need to connect us from one place to the other also can make our lives a living hell. Forget their rotten language; most of us have had two or three words thrown at us, and somehow, maybe, we should get used to it because it seems it is in their blood.
A taxi (combi) driver in a Mogoditshane combi is as raw as the one driving a Tlokweng combi!
It has to be said that anyone who has spent ten or more years using these mobiles to connect around town should be given accolades, for they are really brave. If they can spend that many years being set back unnecessarily by a ruthless driver who takes all detours to hoot in front of people’s yards just in case someone is still taking a bath and is planning on going out and also making 30-minute stops at every corner or stop in the city.
How many times I have been saved by police patrols while stationary at a stop in town I do not know. A police patrol is enough to get the cowardly drivers on the move.
It is well known how dilapidated most of the passenger combis are. I should know, I bear a few scratch scars from the wires and metal rods that stick out from the seats in combis, and also a few of my clothes were ungraciously torn the same way my skin was.
So imagine what happens to someone in ten years!
One common mischief is the way these supposed service deliverers fall short at providing efficient service; not only do they get you to work late, they will embarrass you too.
They consider themselves untouchable who do not have to pander to the wishes of the paying customer.
With their big headed attitude, they treat you differently because you belong in an office somewhere, so you do not have a right to ask for the volume to be reduced simply because it is too loud; or kindly ask for the radio station to be changed at news hour.
Many people have had to contend with foul language directed at them for simply having requested to lower the volume or not to over speed, going through red lights as if ‘red’ is for go.
And then there are their sidekicks, the conductors!
A lady in a combi once asked the driver to not change the radio station and allow passengers to listen to the news. The driver looked at her in his rear mirror and confidently replied, “Never have I walked into your office and told you which radio station to listen to.”
And once, when a passenger tried to complain of the time spent idling at the stop, the driver snapped, “What makes you think you can control our times when we don’t tell you how to run yours?”
What of being packed like sardines in the combi, as if the combi would miraculously stretch to accommodate more than it was built to handle!
On many occasions that I ride in combis, I am forced to sit on one buttock, at a grotesque angle, so that five of us can fit on a seat meant for four passengers.
As if that were not enough, someone is allowed in to stand in the isle while bent over, with his behind in your face as he literally breathes down someone’s neck.
Then there is the issue of change; they always do not have change and conveniently allow you to leave your thebes with them.
Pay P3 and instead of 30 thebe change, all you get is 25thebe and you will be told that they have no 5 thebe coins. But dare to get into the same combi short of 5 thebe at any time and you will have a story to tell.
I walk around and listen to people mourn the many 5 thebes they have left with a combi conductor and what they could have done with the added up money.
All other enterprises go out of their way to advertise their services and try really hard to handle their customers well but not so the combi people.
The interesting thing is why really combi drivers and conductors insult and abuse the people they save. I have tried to understand this phenomenon but failed.
Maybe they loathe us because we hold our breath in silent prayer as we are made to zip through red lights, as the driver shouts at other drivers who adhere to correct road rules.
Maybe they hate us because we helplessly agonise over the unnecessary incessant hooting.
Maybe they don’t like us because we do not complain loud enough when their seats tear our clothes and rip our skins.
They seem to loathe the very people who are giving them business yet many of the combis are not even insured, are not road worthy and are death traps as one can see from the lack of road manners the drivers display.
Maybe it is just their way of telling us that we are their servants and not them ours.
They excel in arrogance and are good teachers of insult.
Months ago, there was talk of giving uniforms to combi drivers and conductors.
We would appreciate it better if those who want to dress these people up could hold running seminars for them on how to handle people and respect the elderly who patronize their services.