Harare Kombi vs Cape Town Taxi

Previously, I wrote about my experiences with public transport in South Africa and Zimbabwe. If you are a tourist and you want the authentic African experience, you have to take the public transport here. Yes, I understand you are concerned about safety, I do not dispute that. But one trip will be an experience of a lifetime. You will truly say, “I was in Africa and I took public transport”.

This is a follow up on my previous blog and after watching an episode of Top Gear recently, I have decided to compare Harare’s kombi with Cape Town’s taxi. There are slight differences between Top Gear and myself – I’m not getting $1 million dollars per year, I am not the one driving, and most importantly, I do not have grey hair. Here is how a kombi fairs against a taxi.

DIRECTION

Kombi

Clearly marked on the side of the vehicle what route this particular kombi is taking in Harare. They read “City – Borrowdale” which means this kombi will go from Borrowdale to the City (CBD) and from the City to Borrowdale. Occasionally they have a sign on the dashboard stating their current destination, for example “BORROWDALE”. And if you still feel lost, the conductor will be announcing through the window where they are heading.

Taxi

In Cape Town, the taxi will have a sign on the dashboard stating their destination, just like those in Harare. On one side it will read “SEA POINT” and on the other side it will have “CAPE TOWN”. The conductor will also be announcing where their destination is. It’s difficult to get lost and when in doubt, ask the driver or the conductor, they are both nice people. Really nice!

APPEARANCE

Kombi

Absolutely terrible! At least a third of them are death traps with the Grim Reaper driving and being the conductor. They are run down, worn out, rust filled death traps with minimal comfort. The frame of the vehicles are small considering that they have been around since the early 2000s and they look like they have survived wars. I’m tiny and I feel squashed in an empty kombi. Not cool! Did I mention how dirty they are? I did not because I could not.

Taxi

Spacious! Some are the dream liner of the taxi world. I can stretch my legs, stand when getting out and not to worry about stopping at the doctor’s office for a tetanus shot. Comfortable and I have slept in one before (bad idea but I was really tired). Well kept and maintenance is important to the owners. I am a neat freak thanks to my boarding school experience and I appreciate seeing others being clean. And the windows work, considering the Cape Town heat, it is necessary.

DRIVING ABILITY

Kombi

Only the main roads are smooth in Harare. Once you get into the residential areas, 4×4 must be initiated, and a sharp eye with outstanding reflexes are a requirement. And Harare kombi drivers are Olympians. They dodge pot holes at 70km/h whilst you are braking to dodge at 20km/h. The one driver drove like Lewis Hamilton around the pot holes. He cruised round them and occasionally he was moving so fast, he glided over them. I was in awe! These guys can tackle any terrain in their tin on four wheels.

Taxi

Laid back drivers that weave through traffic. With Cape Town being a “relaxed” city, these guys operate like they are on flying carpets through traffic. You get your moments of madness but never be in fear, the guy is smooth. My best experience – I was late to meet up with friends in town and I lived 20mins away. I got there in 7mins! He must have been auditioning for Fast & Furious 11: Kaapstad, his take off was quick, change of gears was smooth and when he hit max speed, he was in full control. I arrived safely in town and gave him a fist bump.

Kombi
There is order in the chaos. Read about my experiences with makombi (in Harare) and taxis (in South Africa) on my blog.

CONDUCTOR – the fare collector, stop indicator and the “face” of the vehicle

Kombi

Funny and hard working individuals. Constantly shouting “TOWN HERE (Shona not English)?” (loosely translated – are you going to town?) and they all seem to say it the same way – a high pitched and annoying. Constantly in communication with the driver and their stories are hilarious. They are polite, nice people and are always short of change. They start at 4/5am, how are you short of change? In Harare, they hit the door to indicate to the driver he should stop. Why not just say “stop”? You are capable of speaking, neither is he hard of hearing, plus the driver is 1m away. *shakes head*

Taxi

Funny, helpful and hard working individuals. They will cross the road to get you, help you cross AND carry any bags you may have. All this for R6! Amazing. Then they engage with you, listen to you and your problems as if they are your guidance counselor. All I’m thinking is “All this for R6?” They are funny and tend to over share especially when they are trying to impress someone in the taxi. And they can insult you if you try to take them on – like walking in late on a comedian’s show and you just so happen to sit in the front row. You become a target!

PAYMENT

Kombi

In my previous blog, I stated how you could use 3 currencies to pay for your trip – South African Rand coins, US Dollar and Zimbabwean Bond Coins. Then the Rand dropped! I saw things. Funniest rides ever! Conductors were not taking Rands whilst some travelers only had Rands and when they protested, they opted to be left on the side of the road until a kombi that took Rands came along. Luckily I traveled with all 3 currencies.

Harare’s kombi has a “pay forward” system which means you may pay at the end of the destination. I don’t understand it! Is there a difference? No! They make it seem like you can get in and pay on credit. Imagine a working credit system in a kombi. Hilarious!

Taxi

Only take Rands so there is never anything to worry about. But what you should not do is travel with large notes, R50 plus. Change is hard to come by and as a frequent flyer, I understand the conductor’s pain. Why are you paying for a R6 trip with R100? Why? Even I look over to see who is inconveniencing this hard working, law abiding citizen in the laid back city of Cape Town. Why?

At night, things get tricky. They charge an added fee because they work “overtime”. I have a story – it was 7.02pm when the taxi started moving and the conductor declared an increase in the fare. The taxi, in union, objected. The people shouted, objected, protested to the poor conductor to the point where he gave up then asked the driver to back him. He did not help the case. I could hear from their voices how tired they were, but they failed to realise the entire taxi was filled with tired passengers. He said, and I quote “You guys have your nice jobs with your nice desks. When you finish at 5pm and you continue working, you get overtime. From 7pm, it is our overtime.” I laughed! The woman behind me was not impressed. She shouted at them both in FOUR different languages. Here’s the not so funny part. I had my R6 exactly in coins. Had the “overtime” been approved, I was going to be the fool that had to pay the R8 trip with R100. So I was pro-what-the-angry-woman-just-said! We won the case and my R6 paid for my trip. I was still the good guy that respected the hardworking men.

NIGHT TRAVEL

Kombi

The rules of the road disappear. The kombi becomes the law and they drive however they wish to. In Harare, the roads are narrow and occasionally uneven because of filled up pot holes. The kombi is the sheriff and everyone else abides to their law. It does become reckless and there are times you have to fear for your life. Occasionally (and this annoys me), they drive without their headlights on OR they drive with them on because those are the only lights that work. Harare is poorly lit so this death trap is activated when the sun sets. Oddly enough, it’s a safe ride. Weird!

Taxi

I do not think these guys sleep. Either that or they have shifts. 1am or 3am they will be on the road. I have had the pleasure of using their services at 1am. Smooth ride! Nothing to worry about at all. But you do miss the conductor shouting “CLAIRE-MONT (Claremont)” and “WYNBEG (Wynberg)”. The ride was silent as people just wanted to go home from their night shift. It was actually peaceful being in a taxi at that time. I was freaking out at first then I remembered what city I was in. Cape Town! No one stresses in Cape Town. Before I knew it, I was home.

THE HUB/TERMINUS

Kombi

This is called Copacabana. This is the hub for a lot of Harare’s kombi system. Call it the central hub but technically, Harare has multiple hubs around the CBD. This place has both makombi and vendors. Hop out and do some shopping. Looking for shoes for the kids? A present for your special someone? Or a drink to cool you off in the African heat? It can be found at Copacabana. It is chaotic, loud, messy and civilised. The system is similar to that of ants, there is so much going on but respect the space.

Taxi

The taxi rank in town is the main one, located on top of the train station in Cape Town’s CBD. When I left, there was construction going on and it looked like they are giving a new face to the taxi rank. The current face was not bad as Table Mountain was in the background in full view. It truly was beautiful! The system worked until 5pm when everything seemed to go south. The rank became congested and it was near impossible to move. Bodies of metal were pressed together making it difficult to get out. All you can do is look at Table Mountain and feel calm.

CapeTownStation-20150622-MasixoleFeni-20150622
Table Mountain in the background of Cape Town’s taxi rank (Photo by Masixole Feni)

ENTERTAINMENT

Kombi

The radio is the key source of entertainment. Either the driver has a flash stick and he is playing tunes from it or one of the local radio stations are tuned into. Not bad! It becomes tricky when Zim Dancehall is played. I don’t understand what the driver expects to happen. But I guess if you have been working since 4am, you will need something to get you going in the mornings. December was a tough time, Winky D’s Disappear was the song of the year and I heard it twice a day in the kombi. It was painful!

Taxi

Either the local radio station was on or a flash stick was providing the music. My worst experience was a trip from town to Mowbray. 20mins on a good day, but that day was not a good day. I think the driver’s girlfriend or wife cheated on him and all he played was Loyal by Chris Brown. The song is basically about women lack loyalty to one man. I wanted to cry! I was too tired for this and the song went on and on and on and on. I hope he has recovered. My best experience was when I watched cartoons, Spongebob to be exact. I nearly missed my stop. It turns out I was the only one watching cartoons because Patrick cracked a joke and I was the only one that laughed. That’s when I actually realised I missed my stop.

ETIQUETTE

Kombi

The rules seem to not exist in Harare. The first 6 people sit where they please. The 7th has to start filling up the back. I have seen things! But eventually the kombi fills up. Handling of money – the trip is fixed at 50c so if you have a note, take the change from the person that has 50c. I have seen things! Math is surprisingly outstanding in a kombi but common sense is lacking. But eventually it gets sorted out. When someone at the back wants to get out, please allow them. I have seen things! You want to get out but the person blocking your exit expects you to be Mr Fantastic, change your body shape and slide around them. Harare is smart, but Harare lacks in common sense. Ladies, do not wear heels. This is for the sake of the kombi, I’m not sure if some of them can handle a heel.

Taxi

Run like an institution up until the one guy comes. I have seen things! Once a week, there is always a guy that fails to follow Taxi Etiquette. Either he wants to argue with the conductor, loses his manners or acts like he deserves to be in a luxury sedan and he is doing us a favour. Four people per seat in any country but this guy feels like it should be three. Some passengers decide to take phone calls in the taxi and for some reason, they do not want to keep the conversation private because they are talking loudly. It must be a Capetonian thing! When you look at them to indicate “you are talking loudly”, they look back at you like “why are you listening to my phone call?”

CONCLUSION

Overall, they are a great mode of transport in either city. With their pros and cons, just like any mode of transport, they are reliable and the great thing about them is they do not delay. People in Cape Town know what I’m talking about. Though they drive like they are the sheriffs of the road, they do want to get to the destination as safely as they possibly could. When you are used to this form of public transport, nothing really shocks you. I have had positive experiences with a kombi/taxi and it saddens me to hear the awful experiences others have gone through. This is a way of life for many and these stories should not be in existence.

Capture
I am the Chief of the Taxi Nation

My most positive experience in Harare was when I got the “Treatment” by one of the conductors. I am a regular on a particular route and the conductors have come to know me. The guy offered me a free ride because I am that much of a regular. I felt like a boss, the chief of the taxi nation but I politely told him it was unnecessary. Not because it’s a kombi. Not at all! I am a massive fan of free stuff. It was because our socio-economic situations are different. He will value 50c more than I ever will but that’s not the “Treatment”. I just entered the terminus and I was walking to the usual stop when a conductor came up to me and told me to come to his kombi. “Why?” I asked. His was leaving immediately with one person in it AND I could sit in the front. Not phased by what he said I just agreed. I avoid waiting plus I get to ride in the front – sounded like a good deal to me. Here is the best part, he opened the door for me like he was my chauffeur. Alright! I like the treatment and I’m definitely the chief of the taxi nation. Now I got curious – do I pay? Do I get to choose the music? Could I drive? All no, unfortunately! But I got the “Treatment”. I never got that in Cape Town!

Harare kombi vs Cape Town taxi – Cape Town taxi wins by a full length.

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2 thoughts on “Harare Kombi vs Cape Town Taxi

  1. You are high dude! That phrase of “I have seen things” cracked me up to bits! lol….Trust me I have seen things. sighs

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