South Africa

A commuter's view

The national bus strike aggravates the daily struggle

The national bus strike aggravates the daily struggle
Commuters in Woodstock, Cape Town wait in line for a taxi during the nationwide bus strike, 19 April 2019. Photo by Leila Dougan

As a taxi commuter living in Delft in Cape Town, I have left the house earlier than normal for work, and chosen to leave work a bit later to avoid long queues as a result of the nationwide bus strike. But it wasn’t that simple - long lines were inevitable across Cape Town. By Friday afternoon, the bus strike was still not over.


For three days in April, public transport in the country was logjammed because workers affiliated to Satawu (The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union), The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the Tirisano Transport Workers Union went on strike.

In Cape Town, Golden Arrow and MyCiTi buses were not operating- which caused a severe inconvenience to workers travelling in the city.

Since the bus strike started on Wednesday 18 April, commuters had to make use of alternative measures of transport, including taxis — which I use to get to work.

This is a reflection of what happened.


I make my way to my taxi stop at 7.05am. I get there, the line long — I see no difference in regular taxi commuters, but I wait until 7.40am to get a taxi to work. Traffic into the CBD is chaotic — I must have spotted three different car accidents between Cape Town International Airport and the Cape Town CBD.

Getting into town wasn’t difficult, but the hurried footsteps of commuters showed their urgency to get to work. Eventually, I saw on social media that employers were being asked to sympathise with workers being late due to the bus strike.

Later during the course of the day, my editorial manager asked if I wanted to leave around 4pm. I said no, I’m going to avoid peak hour traffic. I’d rather leave after peak hour.

Big mistake.

I walked to the Cape Town taxi rank after leaving at 5.30pm and immediately regretted it — how long was I going to take to get home? People were standing like sardines in a tin can, squashed together with few taxis in sight.

After standing in the queue for more than an hour, I felt dizzy and tired. But what about the other people standing together in the zigzag lines? People who had left work early were still standing in lines, surrounded by noise, the smell of urine and dirty rain water from the taxi rank’s failed drainage system. Cigarette smokers stood to one side while smoking, keeping a careful eye on their places in the queue.

Then a group of about four people start smoking dagga, which added to the atmosphere of urine, smoke and petrol fumes.

Eventually I get a taxi, I spot a taxi regulator, and strike up a quick conversation. “Was it like this the entire day?”I ask him. He looks around, trying to add another person into the front seat.

Yes, but what can we do?” he says as he calls for another taxi. He says all the regulators were working from 4am. By the time we had a conversation, it was around 7.30pm — that’s almost 15 hours later.

On my way home, everyone either tries to get some sleep or strikes up various conversations The taxi driver tells us there has been traffic into town all day, and that he’s finished working for the day.

I have a wife and children, when will I see them, if I go home this late?” he said.


This morning I’m standing at the back of a line that is more than one kilometre long.

The woman in front of me is someone who usually commutes into town by bus. “The line is much longer than yesterday,” I tell her.

Some people thought the bus strike was for one day and put in leave for the day,” she told me. We stand in the chilly weather, while we wait for a taxi.

A van come now!” screamed a young man.

Doesn’t your boss understand, didn’t people tell your boss that he needs to understand?” I asked surprised. The man looked at me, laughed and said “If I’m late, it’s one hour I won’t get paid. No work, no pay.”

With him on my mind, I see six taxis loading all the commuters standing waiting for a taxi. We eventually get a taxi by 8am. The wait isn’t that long, but on a really chilly morning, it seems like forever.

During the course of the day, I see a message from the City of Cape Town saying that all MyCiTi services were suspended until further notice.

The evening however, went much smoother. I left work at 7pm, trying to avoid traffic. There was no queue.


After leaving at 7am once again I face a repeat of the previous day’s 1km queue.

I spot the woman I spoke to yesterday, the one who usually takes the bus. She says her boss let everyone go home at 2pm on Thursday afternoon. She said today (Friday) she has an afternoon meeting, but if it ends at about 4pm, she will wait in town until her husband who works in Plattekloof can come and fetch her at 6pm — because “that line, never again”.

In a moment of comic relief, a young woman attempts to strike up a conversation with her friend — who stands about 20 places before her — in an attempt to jump the queue. The commuters didn’t fall for it and she had to resume her place at the back of the queue.

The young man I spoke to yesterday shouts “No! Go back to the line. We’ve been waiting for a long time for a taxi.”

In his conversation with another young man, he said he is late for work again. He normally works until 3pm on a Friday, but because he is late, he will have to work until 4pm.

We get into a taxi and I spot a bus ticket belonging to the woman sitting next to me. She said she bought her bus ticket on Monday morning, but now has to spend an additional R90 for the three days she travelled by taxi and it costs money, especially since its the week before she gets paid. She said she heard her bus tickets will still be in use next week, but has not had confirmation of this yet.

Sitting in heavy traffic, I see two accidents this morning. Going through TwitterI see this post from Metrorail:

Regional delays of 60+ minutes affecting ALL LINES due to signal power failure between Cape Town and Mutual/Pinelands/Observatory and Ysterplaat. Commuters are advised to make use of alternative transport arrangements.”

This angered me — chaos on the roads, chaos on the trains — another stress for commuters. Now trains are delayed. How are people supposed to get to work? By noon, the train service was fully functional, but commuters still had to expect delays of more than an hour.

The bus strike has not impacted on me as severely as, say commuters in other parts of Cape Town, including Mitchells Plain where most people use either the Golden Arrow buses or the MyCiTi.

Journalist and student Tamryn Christians photographed images of the lines at the Town Centre taxi rank which capture the painfully long wait for commuters.

The Citizen reported that unions and bus company management would continue to meet in Johannesburg. Unions are locked in deliberations with bus companies including Golden Arrow, MyCiTi, Algoa Bus Company (Port Elizabeth) and Rea Vaya (Johannesburg) asking for a 12% salary increase, a basic minimum wage of R8,000 per month and dual drivers for long distance drivers.

By late afternoon, the bus strike still ongoing, I braced myself for the long journey home. DM

Payne is a reporter at Daily Maverick


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