A Taxi Rank in South Africa

A taxi rank in a mid-sized South African city:

Not many South Africans can afford to own a car. Combine this with a tendency of the apartheid-era government to move people to all sorts of out-of-the-way places in an attempt to create their racially divided paradise, and you need a serious public transit system to keep the country going.

And that’s where the taxis come in…a combination of laid back African making-it-work and high-level planning. Taxis will take you pretty much anywhere in the country. You just need some patience and a willingness to ask for help. Big ranks like these can have dozens of taxi routes coming in and going out. It’s only a matter of asking where to wait and grabbing a seat on a van (yeah, we call them taxis but they’re structurally vans or minibuses) and waiting for it to fill. Waiting can be anything from a couple of minutes to half a day–taxis only leave when they’re full. Big, new ranks like this one, built for the 2010 World Cup, even have signs showing the destinations–the red boards on the overhang in the photo below:

One of the coolest things about large taxi ranks is the sheer amount of things you can buy. Fresh fruit and veggies, goods like wallets and watches, bread, snacks galore, and the ultimate meal…

This lady, and dozens like her, will gladly sell you a meal simply called a plate. I’m sure I’ve spoken of the plate before, but for about $4 you get this:

The white stuff is pap, which is something like polenta. You get a pile of pap, some meat, and all the sides. Spoons are for the weak, real people eat with their hands.