Hitchhikers in East London accuse taxi drivers of intimidation

Highway Taxi rank in Mdantsane. Photo by Maqulo Nyakombi

Hitchhiking may not be safe but neither are taxis and it is cheaper too. Obviously this does not go well with taxi owners and drivers sice it affects their business. Many hitchhikers accuse taxi operators of approaching them rudely and forcing them to use the taxi rank.

N E Expy, Abbotsford, East London, 5241, South Africa

It has is typical to see hitchhikers on the side of the road along the N2 between East London and Butterworth and the old “Transkei” region appealing to drivers for a lift.  Hitchhikers who spoke to Elitsha said it is not safe but that it’s cheaper than taking a taxi. Obviously this does not go well with taxi owners and drivers sice it affects their business.

Back in 2012, a 30-year-old woman was robbed of all her belongings whilst hitchhiking from East London to her hometown of Centane.

When I spoke to two women who were hitchhiking to Mthatha and Stutterheim respectively yesterday, they highlighted abuse from taxi drivers as their main reason for hitchhiking.

“Everyone has a right to use whatever means of transportation they see fit. Why are we obliged to use taxis even if we don’t want to?” asked Sinazo Ngalo. “I work in East London and stay in Stutterheim. Usually I have to hitchhike everyday to and from work. Using a taxi it costs R45 but when I am hiking I use R30,” she explained.

Many hitchhikers accuse taxi operators of approaching them rudely and forcefully telling them  to use the taxi rank. Zikhona Jerenies from Mthatha shared her own disturbing story of abuse by taxi operaters.

“Last week Friday, I cancelled my trip to Mthatha from East London. I was hitchhiking in Southernwood, on the N2 to Mthatha. Suddenly a white Avanza pulled up close to me. The two men who came out of the Avanza, demanded that I catch a taxi to Mthatha at the taxi rank in Caxton.

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“At the rank it would cost about R150 travelling to Mthatha, whilst if I hitchhike I pay less than R100 to go home. While resisting they forcefully took away my two bags and one of them slapped me. I resisted anyway and as a result  I ended up not going home. I did not report the incident with the police at all.”

Lwazi Mafenuka who drives a taxi under the Uncedo Taxi Association said hitchhiking kills their business and they can’t sit down and do nothing about it. “Taxi driving is our only way of putting food on the table. Therefore if people stay away from the taxi rank that simply means we will not make money. Normally we tell people to come to the taxi rank even if their money is short for the trip. We are quite understanding,” he said.

“Besides us making money, there are risks in hitchhiking like being robbed and kidnapped. We plead with people to avoid that route, especially as we are approaching the festive season.”

Uncedo Taxi Association president, Ntsikelelo Gaehler said they do not motivate their members to use violence against travellers.

“We normally train and brief taxi operators on how to deal  with their passengers. We don’t condone violence of any form, even towards hitchhikers. We invest a lot of money in our country as the taxi industry. Besides, we are avid taxpayers. If people resolve to hitchhiking that means our business suffers so much,” he said.

East London’s police spokesperson. Warrant Officer Hazel Mqala, emphasized that in South Africa there is no law that prohibits hitchhiking.

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“Hitchhiking is legal, especially if the motorists don’t break any traffic laws when they stop for people. If taxi drivers are forcing people to use their taxis even if they don’t want to then that is intimidation, it is illegal. Hitchhiking may not be safe, but it is well within the law and people do so at their own risk,” she said.

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About Chris Gilili 18 Articles
Chris Gilili, a 23 year old freelance journalist based in East London. Graduated from Walter Sisulu University media studies school in 2015. Had a stint with Independent Media, in sports writing. Passionate about news and the media.