Fine young taxi marshals

It’s just after 7am on a Friday morning at the corner of Azalia Street and Dobsonville Road in Dobsonville Gardens, Soweto, opposite Snake Park.  Taxi drivers lean on their hooters, their sound systems in competition, roaring the latest R&B and house tracks into the brisk, exhaust-fumed atmosphere.

 

Energetic young marshals race around shouting out the routes like market wares: “Hello there! Zola! Bara! Dube! Westgate-Roodepoort! Jabulani Mall via terminals! Jo’burg! 5-Sakies!” The right kind of music attracts the right kind of commuters at this time of day—teenagers on their way to school. Some of the taxi marshals at this rank are younger than the school commuters. This is part of a growing trend, partly because of unemployment. The phenomenon has distinct benefits for commuters: the new marshals on the block are polite, informative and helpful—a far cry from the intimidating old-school types—mostly middle-aged Zulu men who specialised in swearing at commuters and wielding sjamboks.

The new young marshals are usually kids who have experienced hardship, but have taken the initiative rather than face life on the streets or be tempted into crime. In the process, in some neighbourhoods, they have transformed the culture and efficiency of the ranks.
Sabelo Masuwa (24), who also left school in grade 11, is proud of his job. “I saw an opportunity to be a taxi marshal because commuters were battling to find taxis to their destination. It’s now been four years and I like it. We connect commuters.” Masuwa’s mother died a long time ago and he now lives in Snake Park at his aunt’s place, with two cousins, Mcebisi and Busi Masuwa. I paid Sabelo a visit on a Monday before 5am—it was still dark.  Sabelo boiled water in a kettle and washed himself. Before heading out to collect his friends, he drank a cup of tea.  Things have been tough for Masuwa, but his job as a marshal has given him a sense of pride. “Because of this job I am able to talk freely to people. ­Before, I was reserved—I would hide my problems as if things were fine.”

 

Commuters and taxi drivers seem just as happy with the new marshals.

 

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