TOGETHERNESS Amadeus Tshabalala jinks his Toyota mini-bus taxi (with BMW hubcaps) through the rush-hour traffic. He is a confident man of high spirits, as evidenced by the stickers on his rear window: “God loves Taxi Drivers” and “Defeat Constipation – Travel by Taxi”.

On the front of his taxi, above a dent which, ominously, is in the shape of a large traffic cop with his arms akimbo, is a placard reading: Northern Suburbs Express – Inaugural Flight.

Using the word “flight” is Togetherness’ little joke. He could well have used the word “fright” for such is his sense of humour.

We are witnessing (dear reader) the inaugural journey of a township taxi which hopes to establish a daily service between the quiet, leafy, mainly white northern suburb of Jukskei Park and Johannesburg city centre. It is a 25km journey that takes Togetherness 8.5 minutes if its not too busy and assuming he can occasionally drive on the pavements to avoid queuing in traffic.

The percussion waves from Togetherness’ powerful radio cause the vehicle’s sides to rhythmically flex. He hoots as he drives. Togetherness hoots at anything he sees – including trees and pretty girls – as is the custom of township taxi drivers.

Aboard the taxi are a dozen white people. They do not come whiter. Their whiteness is not due to fear; it is due to stark terror. Take John Hilton. Never in his life has he experienced zero to 100 km/h in six seconds – not in heavy traffic. Denise Smith’s colour had changed to green-white as quickly as the last traffic light changed to red – a colour which, as is traditional among taxi drivers, Togetherness ignores.

He looks over his shoulder – for a full minute – asking passengers their destinations. Elsbeth Brown, sitting right at the back, says. “Randburg centre!” She really wants to go all the way to Johannesburg centre but, suddenly, Randburg seems preferable. She worries about how she will make her way from the backseat, but only fleetingly because the taxi has now reached Randburg and has stopped as suddenly as a plane might stop up against a mountain. Now everybody is in front in a warm, intimate heap. Elsbeth alights as gracefully as anybody can with one knee locked behind the other. She is vaguely aware of passers-by loosening her clothing and shouting: “Give her air!”

Togetherness bowls happily along Jan Smuts Avenue overtaking a police car that is chasing a getaway car. Then he overtakes the getaway car, exchanging boisterous greetings with the driver whom he appears to know. Togetherness is steering with his elbows because he needs his hands free to check the morning’s takings and to wave to girls.

He announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We will shortly be landing in Johannesburg. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your seats are in the upright position. Thank you.”

Piet Smit is chewing on a seatbelt that is made of leather. Togetherness had them specially made because he felt first-time passengers would need to bite on something.

Togetherness now merges with the mainstream of in-bound traffic. He merges with it in much the same way his Zulu ancestors merged with the British at the battle of Isandlwana.

He stops at his usual disembarkation point in the middle of a busy intersection and picks his teeth, patiently, while people sort out their legs and teeth before groping their way towards a street pole around which they can throw their arms.

By the time his passengers’ eyeballs have settled back in their sockets, Togetherness is halfway back to the northern suburbs.

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James Clarke