While walking on some of Durban’s busiest streets, it’s hard to ignore the passion and vigour with which the taxi drivers and conductors work to convince potential passengers to board their taxi instead of another. The conductors getting off the taxi to beg someone – sometimes someone who is clearly going the opposite way – to board the taxi, the blaring whistles, and the deafening music all point to tough industry competition. QINISO MBILI took a longer-than-usual taxi trip to find out more about the business.
This is Sihle Mcineka, one of the more than 70 taxi drivers working the South Beach route at any one time. He wakes up at 4.00am to start work at 5.30am. Mcineka’s route begins at Berea market and ends at South Beach. Each trip takes about 30 to 45 minutes and generates at least R100. The taxi fare has remained unchanged at R5 for six years.
Mcineka usually works with “Fish” as his conductor, but if Fish is late for whatever reason, he loses the job for the day and there are plenty of conductors always ready to take up the job. This is one of the reasons why the conductors work with such passion: to try to convince the driver to employ them again the following day.
Fish’s wage depends on how good business was that day. On bad days he gets R150 and on good days, like month end and weekends, he gets paid up to R500. These are standard rates for every conductor working on the South Beach Route.
According to Mcineka, the best perk of this job is the money. At the end of every work day, the owner of the taxi expects a cash-up of R800 to R1000. This is after he has filled the taxi up with R300 worth of petrol and paid his conductor. Any more money the taxi makes is his and the conductor can get a percentage of it.
This is why drivers have to work really hard: so that they can secure the cash-up money and start working towards their own money. The sooner the driver secures the cash-up amount each day, the sooner he can start making his own money.
Usually, taxi drivers don’t get a salary. Instead, they are given the taxi on weekends and all the money that the driver generates on the weekend is his to keep.
Business here is the best during month end, weekends, peak hours and when it is raining. According to Mcineka, this is the most lucrative short-distance route in the province. He told The Daily Vox that he had been able to make R1,000 in five hours the previous day.
“One of the challenges in this job is the insensitive passengers that complain all the time when the taxi has to stop and pick other passengers up,” says Mcineka. Another challenge that drivers face is working with conductors who steal some of the money. This can be easily done, as it is hard for the driver to keep track of who comes and goes in the taxi because it is so busy.
The biggest trouble for South Beach drivers, however, is the police. Due to the tough competition and the chase for money, Mcineka admits that it is hard to always stay within the law. He also added that the police tended to be harsher on taxi drivers because they know they are always carrying cash; therefore, it is easier to squeeze bribes out of them.