Taxi passengers queue up for trips to other provinces from Gauteng

The taxi driver was as cool as a cucumber. It was early on Tuesday morning at the Daveyton taxi rank in Ekurhuleni as passengers filed into his minibus as taxi operators started defying the government's interprovincial travel restrictions.

At 7.55am, the taxi was ready to hit the road.

All 10 passengers who were already seated inside the taxi were equally relaxed.

The common feature was the heavy travel bags they were carrying and the protective masks which partly covered their faces as the taxi took off to begin its long-distance journey of over 300km to Thulamahashe in Mpumalanga.

The taxi cut through the township onto the Delmas road. There was no sign of police as Sowetan followed it from the minibus depot to the Middelburg toll plaza along the N4 highway, about 310km from Johannesburg.

Even so, the driver chose a remote route to avoid bumping into a police roadblock on the N4. He steered through the misty Delmas road leading to Emalahleni before reconnecting to the N4 highway again.

Speaking to Sowetan earlier, one of the passengers, Rhanzdo Mathibela, said she was excited to go home regardless of the risks of travelling during the pandemic. "I'd rather go and die at home than die in Johannesburg. I had been stuck here working but I got retrenched during lockdown. I'm returning to my home village," said Mathibela.

Mathibela said she was renting a room in Springs. "I just had a bed and fridge and a wardrobe, a cooking stove and few pots. I gave those things to my cousin. I'll return the day I get something here again."

She last went home in December. "My two children are at home with my four sisters and my father," she said.

Although she was now unemployed, being home would give her relief from rental stress and hunger, she said.

At the Wanderers taxi rank, one of the biggest in Johannesburg, taxi marshals said there was a reduced number of travellers to places like Venda, Sibasa and Musina in Limpopo because of travel permits.

Rank marshal France Manana said passengers were required to produce permits because of the roadblocks on most of the routes, especially the KwaZulu-Natal routes.

"Some passengers take chances but they know that they are on their own should they be required to produce permits on the road."

He said all passengers were loaded to 70% capacity across all provinces. Passengers boarding here were mostly going to Mpumalanga, Cape Town, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Swaziland.

Manana said the rank loaded about six taxis for each route daily at the moment.

"Before lockdown we would load over 20 to 30 loads on each route. Hence we feel that we lost millions during lockdown," said Manana.

Taxi driver Sabelo Mbatha, who operates on the KwaZulu-Natal route, said he was happy to be working again. "We are working in a risk situation like the rest of the country.

So we see no difference in us loading passengers daily. We all have to wear our masks and sanitise like the rest of South Africans are doing.

But life must go on."

Police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said the JMPD are monitoring the N1, between Johannesburg and Limpopo, and the N3, which links KZN to Gauteng and North West.''

Minnaar said the road to Mpumalanga is outside their jurisdiction. "Taxis must carry 70% of its load or taxis get stopped and adjusted immediately before continuing their trips. We are awaiting charge schedules, that are being formulated, for officers to charge offenders that are contravening lockdown regulations."

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