The country entered into Level 3 lockdown on 1 June and despite people going back to work, things are still quiet.
At the Bree Street Taxi Rank, commuters make their way to a few lined-up taxis. The mall joining the taxi rank is also relatively quiet with a few shopkeepers sitting outside watching commuters go by. The strong smell of marijuana lingers in the air and a hawker selling DVDs sits on a grate, smoking a cigarette.
A taxi driver sanitises the hands of passengers before allowing them to board. A quick headcount to ensure he has the new maximum of 10 passengers before he closes the sliding door and jumps into the driver’s seat and then leaves the rank.
The Bree Street Taxi Rank is divided in two by Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street (formerly Sauer Street). On the other side, which houses more taxis, street sellers stand outside waving boxes of counterfeit cigarettes. The first noticeable thing as one enters is the number of empty loading bays and the small lines of commuters. Hawkers are still present, but complain of business being quiet, despite the Level 3 status.
“My business is quiet. It has been like this for a long time. This lockdown just came and messed things up. We are not on Level 4, but things are still quiet,” said a hawker who was reluctant to give her name.
Pre-lockdown, things were different at peak hour. The place was abuzz with people. Security guards were on high alert, on the lookout for suspicious characters.
The loading bays were full of taxis. Passengers had to wait in line for their turn to jump into a taxi and the rank boasted long lines of people, queueing for different destinations. Hawkers walked around shouting at the top of their voices, selling loose cigarettes, potato chips, juice and other snacks. Today, they are sombre, barely uttering anything, just looking around. Bree Street is known to be one of the busiest taxi ranks in Joburg, but it seems as if the lockdown has changed that.
Some drivers sit in their taxis while others stand around making small talk.
Elias Macie, who drives the Joburg to Soweto route, complained:
“Before the lockdown business was better. We were especially busy on month-ends. Our month-end rush would last seven or eight days into the next month. When lockdown came, everything changed. We were promised relief from the government, but we are still waiting. I thought things would change with Level 3, but we are still only permitted to carry 10 passengers.
“I do not see the logic in that. A taxi only has one door to enter and exit. People get in and out using one door handle. Where is the social distance? It makes no difference if there are five passengers or 15. If one has the virus it will spread. It don’t make sense to me.”
Macie, who made R600 a day, now earns R300. The number of loads he carried has also been reduced from six to three and his load capacity has also been reduced from 15 to 10 passengers.
“Government must help us with the money they promised us. They have the money. They should allow us to increase our prices. This is not our fault and we need to survive.”
Apart from financial loss, Macie worries about contracting the virus.
“Of course I am scared. I wear my mask. I sanitise my hands, I sanitise the gear lever and the steering wheel. I also sanitise after handling the money and I do this after every trip.” DM