The heartbeat of the city

Taking a trip through Windhoek's streets

23 June 2019 | Business

Windhoek • Lisa Plank



A taxi driver cruises down the street, loud music blaring from the loudspeakers inside the car. With one hand he casually waves out of the window while keeping the other on his steering wheel. He hoots, sticks his head out of the window and shouts: “Sister, sister! Where you go?” He hits the brakes and glances at a young woman next to the road.

She doesn't react and he moves along.

Although they make an important contribution to urban life, taxi ­drivers have a bad reputation. Not only are they criticized because of their ­driving style, but also because of organized crime.

Would you get into any taxi on the street? Rather not, it's too dangerous.

That is how many Namibians see it.

James is a taxi driver. It is early in the morning and still cold, but the young man is in good spirits. “What do you think of the weather?” he asks the woman sitting next to him. He asks more questions and before long, the conversation is flowing.

For James, his job is not a stopgap. He loves it.

“As a taxi driver, I can do exactly what I love. I meet interesting people­ every day, I can talk to them and find out what they are doing in life,” he says.

His customers also notice how seriously he takes his job. As he waits at a red light, he watches the traffic around him, then glances at the clock. “When do you have to be at work?” he asks the woman in the passenger seat. “At eight,” she answers and he nods. “We can make it,” he replies.



Out and about

While James is out on the streets, ­Erick, also a taxi driver, uses his morning to care for his vehicles. He buys engine oil at a small shop in Katutura and radiator fluid at another. At the third shop he wants to buy stabilizers, but he is left disappointed. They are sold out. “Come again in two weeks,” he is told. But this is not a problem for Erick. “I don't need the stabilizers right now, but it's good to have them in stock,” he explains.

Erick has been a taxi driver since 2012. Before then he worked in a ­bakery. Like James, he is proud of his job. “I experience a lot and I am my own boss,” he says.

Initially it was tough. He had bought a taxi from a minister whom he had to pay N$500 every day. “I worked day and night. But it was worth it. After a year, the car was mine,” he says proudly.

James also says the first months as a taxi driver were not easy. In his new job, he had to find his way around first. “I had to learn when and where to find clients and how to win them over,” he explains. He had to find out all this himself, because nobody gave him any tips.

“It took me about six months to get the hang of it and to earn some money,” he recalls.

His daily life follows a strict routine. Every day he gets up at 05:00 and an hour later he sits in his car and drives customers to work. “I live in Khomasdal. From there I drive people to and from the city,” he says. Between 06:00 and 08:00 are the most important times for him. “In these two hours I make half of my turnover that I need per day.”



Maintenance

Late morning, Erick stops at a group of auto mechanics in Katutura. “If a car breaks down, it's a disaster. That's why it's important to have your car serviced regularly,” he say.

Today, Erick let's all his cars rest, because the 29-year-old's hard work has paid off. He now owns four cars and five men work for him. “I have drivers on the road 24 hours a day. My customers can call me any time and we will take them home safely,” he says. “Two of my drivers start at 04:00, while another two work late into the night.”

He and his staff not only work in Windhoek, they also often drive to the international airport.

James can also call his car his own. “As a taxi driver, I have to think like a manager. I need to structure my time, plan my route, and properly allocate my money.” He says mastering these tasks requires concentration. “You have to know all the streets, all the restaurants, all the bars. When a customer comes in, they need to know where their destination is and how to get there quickly,” he says.

James understands that many people consider driving in a taxi dangerous. “I would not say that the prejudices are true, but they are not completely wrong.”

He knows about the criminal machinations of some drivers, but also defends those who take their work seriously. “Taxi driving is a noble profession,” he says. “You bring a person to their destination – safely, ­punctually and in a good mood. That's a big responsibility.

He says he also has high expectations of himself. “My car should be a safe place where my customers can forget their worries. When they get off, they should feel ready to face the challenges of the day.”



Money-wise

How much they can earn per day, depends on the economic situation. “In the middle of the month you get less because people run out of money. On such days, there are only a few people on the road, so maybe I earn N$400 a day,” James says. “At the end of the month, when people have been paid, I feel it too. People go out, and then I can earn up to N$700 a day.”

However, he has to manage this money well. He refuels his car every day, and he has to pay for maintenance and repairs. “If you want to survive, you need self-discipline,” he says.

Erick says it is not just about making enough money for himself. He also has to feed his family. For his children to receive an education, he works at least 12 hours a day.

When he starts talking about his children, there is a smile on his lips. “They go to school and to German lessons at the Goethe-Institut. That's important so that they can study in Germany at some point and have a better life,” he says.

But he too has dreams. If he has enough money, he says he wants to go on holiday – the first time in his life. “If I have a weekend free, I want to go to Swakopmund. I've never been to the coast. But the tourists always tell me it is wonderful there.”