Poverty drove taxi queen Thembi Magubane to industry

Thembi Magubane is the deputy chair of the Benoni Taxi Association. /Supplied
Thembi Magubane is the deputy chair of the Benoni Taxi Association. /Supplied

From selling atchaar and living in a shack, a 45-year-old woman is now a proud owner of nine taxis and a leader in one of the biggest taxi associations in Gauteng.

Thembi Magubane from Springs in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, said her financial struggles pushed her to the male-dominated industry which she has conquered through prayer.

She said it all began when she was 16 years old after giving birth to her first born.

"I was from a less-privileged family, so I started with one bucket walking to the streets selling atchaar to be able to provide for the innocent person I had brought into the world," she said.

"In 2009, I saved up enough, so I bought a bakkie that enabled me to grow my small business."

Magubane said she bought her first taxi in 2010 and continued to save hard until she bought her mother a four-room house.

From there on, she was blessed to add a new taxi each year, and now owns nine.

"I wanted to get out of poverty and my determination got me where I am today. I can now help others with food parcels, new clothes and transport, [things] I never had while growing up, and I feel that children must have the best."

Magubane, now the deputy chair of Benoni Taxi Association (BTA), said getting into the dangerous and male-dominated industry was not easy.

"I had to develop a very thick skin and handle issues with bravery in the association."

She said although some men were aggressive, the association has put structures that help her resolve issues in a hierarchy with success internally. "I've learned that when you respect them they respect you back."

She said she was elected as a grievances chairperson when she joined BTA in 2011.

"The thought of being killed because of taxi politics has crossed my mind many times but I avoid making enemies because not everyone will like you," she said.

One of her drivers, Sipho Sibiya, said he has worked for Magubane for five years and during all those years he has found a mother in her.

He also said Magubane wanted the best for her employees and encourage them to save and upgrade themselves.

Johannesburg Taxi Association spokesperson Gcina Mabizela said he knew Magubane from meetings. "It's great to have a woman of her calibre in our leadership, and looking at the size of the association she's heading I would say she's playing a big role being deputy chairperson and she is very hands-on."