If you don't have a car of your own in Cape Town, don't fret. You've got plenty of transport options to help you get around. One of the most convenient and thrilling ways to travel South Africa is via minibus taxi.
As an expat in Cape Town, chances are you've been hooted at, nearly run over by, or stuck in traffic behind a minibus taxi. These ten-seater vans, which sometimes squeeze in more than 20 passengers, are hated by many and loved only by those who need to catch a lift. You can hail one down on any main road, and you'll never be confused about where they're heading because there's always some guy that hangs out the front window shouting the destination location while he slides open the door and encourages you to get in. He's known as the ‘gaatjie’, or the sliding door operator – consider him your tour guide.
Because minibus taxi drivers often drive recklessly and extremely fast, it's best only to use them for your morning commute or quick daytime lifts around the city. Do not use a minibus taxi out on the highway or late at night – that's plain unsafe. Also, please remember that these instructions are strictly for Cape Town. Other cities have very different rules, so before you flag a minibus taxi down in Durban or Johannesburg, learn the local laws as they are much more complex.
The only crucial thing to remember before embarking on any minibus taxi ride is to act like you know exactly what you're doing. This means following a couple of guidelines:
Before you flag your taxi down, have your money ready
Minibus taxis charge a small fee per passenger which varies depending on the route. The rate goes up after 6pm. Having exact change is ideal but if you have a small note, that works too. Just have it ready in your pocket so you don't have to go digging around in your wallet while you're squished between other passengers – and make no mistake, you will be squished. Whatever you do, don't hand up a large note and ask the gaatjie for change because you won't get any (bring smaller bills). On that subject, don't carry a lot of money or valuables in a minibus taxi for obvious reasons.
Don't rush to pay your fare. First, find your seat and then a few minutes into the ride, pass your coins up to the gaatjie. If you're up at the front, just gently touch the collector's shoulder and he'll put out his hand for your money. Let him know if you're paying for more than just yourself. Without so much as a nod, he'll hand back any change he owes you. If you're way in the back, simply pass your fare up to the passenger in front of you and it will eventually get to the money collector.
Have an idea of where you want to get out
A minibus taxi driver knows his route like the back of his hand – he's been driving it since he's had a licence (but also note that your taxi driver may not have a licence.) The point is, he knows the roads he's driving on. When you want to get out, just call out the name of a nearby landmark, for example a Pick 'n Pay, Checkers or a petrol station. If there's nothing around, just give the driver a little warning and tell him the name of the road where you want to get out.
Not all minibus drivers are nice
There's a chance that you'll ask the driver to stop at the Woolworths up ahead, and he'll just shake his head. It's okay, don't panic. Remain as chilled as a cucumber. He'll drop you at the next stop where someone else is probably getting on or off. This isn't a reflection on you. Minibus drivers are interested in one thing and one thing only – they want to make as much money as they can, as quickly as possible.
There you have it. Act cool, act friendly and enjoy the loud music and intimate setting. You'll be a minibus taxi pro in no time!