History of SA taxi industry under Apartheid


Forced to the edges

The Group Areas Act, promulgated by the South African Parliament on 7 July 1950, assigned specific racial groups to separate residential and business areas. This act, along with a series of other legislation, were the tools used to forcibly remove millions of South Africans from their homes to the outskirts of towns and cities, from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Under this act, arguably one of the most oppressive pieces of legislation under apartheid, communities were forced to move to outlying areas, many kilometres away from economic hubs where they might find work. Central urban areas and areas deemed attractive to live in – such as seaside spots, attractive suburbs and lucrative business and farming locations – were designated as white-only zones, while areas further away were zoned for use by people of colour. The forced removals gave rise to some of South Africa’s most colourful and internationally-renowned townships, including the Cape Flats in Cape Town, Soweto in Gauteng and KwaMashu in Durban.

It was under these trying circumstances that entrepreneurs such as Boni Hlumbane and Morriat Tsentse saw an opportunity to answer a social need.

Boni started transporting people between Sharpeville and other townships in the Vaal Triangle area, to business areas such as Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark.

Tsentse also saw the opportunity and started transporting mine workers to and from the eleven mines in Orkney in 1988.

While the Group Areas Act was abolished in 1991, it continues to directly affect millions of South Africans, who not only lost their houses and property through forced removals, but in many cases forever lost connections with family and friends. By 1983, three-and-a-half million people had been forcibly removed from their homes, and many more were removed in the years to follow.

The act’s effects still heavily influence urban development, planning and social cohesion in South Africa today, almost three decades after the country’s democratic elections. With limited economic opportunities to move closer to working areas, many South Africans still live in the areas where their families were moved to under apartheid, and still have to travel long distances to get to work. Similarly, new low-cost developments are still set up in far-off locations that are cheaper to build than the older, well-established and serviced areas closer to towns and business areas.

It is here that the taxi industry plays a crucial role as the life-blood of the South African economy, transporting 70% of the country’s workforce to and from work every day.


Mzanzi’s twelfth language



Out of necessity, the South African minibus taxi industry has developed its own language of slang phrases and hand signals. Informally developed and passed on from commuter to commuter, this language is understood by millions of passengers and taxi drivers. Taxi hand language has developed into an essential communication tool that allows for the efficient operation of the countrywide taxi network.

Commuters flag down a taxi using an elaborate set of hand signals to show where they want to go. Some signals are straightforward and universal.