Last week, the world celebrated International Taxi Driver Day which is a day passengers all around the globe honour exceptionally hardworking taxi drivers, dedicated to delivering great service for their customers. This day, in 1907, marks the first time that official ‘taxis’, that measured distance travelled and billed accordingly first appeared on the streets of London. The fitting of so-called ‘taximeters’ was made compulsory that year and the previously named cabs, now fitted with ‘taximeters’, became known as “taxicabs” or “taxis”. Over a hundred years later, a somewhat different form of taxi, the minibus taxi continues to play an essential role in contributing to South Africa’s economy and, in fact, accounts for 70% of all daily transport – about 15 million trips daily.
As the world celebrates the day private taxi’s enabled transport for the masses, South Africa’s largest taxi underwriter CTU, believes it is critical to celebrate and highlight the vital role taxi and e-hailing drivers play. CTU, in particular, is proud of a few exceptional drivers from KwaZulu Natal, who are some of the highest placed participants in The Best Driver of the Year competition, hosted by The South African National Taxi Council in KwaZulu Natal (SANTACO – KZN).
Among these winning drivers, awarded both for driving skill and theoretical knowledge are Muzikayise Mbatha, who was the overall winner of the competition and second runner up Mandla Mabaso. The two outstanding and caring drivers were surprised but thrilled to hear of a day set aside to recognise their daily grind.
Muzikayise Mbatha (38) hails from Vryheid and has been in the taxi industry for more than eight years. He is a local taxi driver for the community of Ulundi, Nongoma and Mahlabathini. “As a taxi driver, I realised very early in my work life that the safety of my passengers is in my hands and I have a duty to ensure that they arrive safely at their destinations,” says Mbatha.
A typical day in the life of Muzi, as he is affectionately known amongst his colleagues, sees him up by 4:00am daily, to be at the taxi rank by 5:00am, at which time he begins loading his taxi with the commuters for the first trip of the day. “My taxi is loved by many locals in the area because it is always very neat and tidy inside, I am proud of my career and my taxi reflects this”. He adds; “I was honoured and happy to be selected to be part of the competition, which eventually led me to become the winner. I didn’t think that I would be rewarded for my hard-work on such a big scale and knowing that my passengers voted for me, makes it extra special for me to see the vital role that I play in their everyday lives.”
Mandla Mabaso (32) became a taxi driver ten years ago and like the majority of his colleagues has never before worked under such high-risk and life threating circumstances as Covid-19 has caused. “My job has become extremely important, now more than ever before, as it is my role to keep people safe in many different ways. As I must observe that passengers are wearing masks, are social distancing in queues and have to ensure that they sanitise their hands before entering the vehicle”.
This long-distance driver operates between Johannesburg and Durban and notes that each day is never the same for him. “I became a taxi driver to be able to feed my family and have a source of income. Being able to be recognised for my hard work in the competition made me realise how important my role in society is. The money I received during the competition went into my savings and will eventually be used to fund my dream of owning a delivery van when I finally start my own business – which will be a delivery services company.”
“Taxis are used by most commuters and play a significant role in the country. It is great to note that there is a day dedicated to celebrating them and their hard work. Taxi drivers that are making a difference like Muzikayise and Mandla, deserve to be celebrated and honoured for the role they play in their commuters’ daily life,” says Oscar Shabala, Business Development Manager at CTU.