Strangers in Vans


This, my friends, is a minibus taxi. This is how I get to and from work every day. Not nearly as cute as my Kia Soul, but every single ride is an adventure, that’s for sure.

A minibus taxi is a big van with a driver, and a guy who sits on the floor of the van by the sliding door. This person is responsible for opening the door (sometimes while the van is still moving) for passengers, as well collecting their fare. Minibuses make their presence known by honking the horn, and yelling/whistling out the window to passing pedestrians. It can be nerve-racking, as their driving can seem more like a ride at an amusement park than a car ride at times.

It still feels a little awkward at times. I walk down the street after work and then a van, full of strangers, honks the horn at me and slows down the car. Mum, Dad, Grandma… brace yourselves, because I do in fact get in that car. So un-American. One of the cardinal rules we’re taught growing up is, “don’t ever get in a car with strangers. Even if they offer you Taco Bell and a puppy.” Well Toto, we’re not Kansas anymore, and the van full of strangers is a hell of a lot safer than the street full of strangers.

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Notice the stand still traffic behind the van, on the other side of the road.

I work in Observatory. Not necessarily the best area, hence why there is a Rape Crisis office there, but far from the worst. The minibus takes me from the main station in City Centre and drops me off on the main road, which is roughly two blocks from my office. Every day before work, I walk the two blocks from where the minibus drops me off, to my office. After work, I walk two blocks back to the main road, make my way through the standstill traffic to the other side of the road, and wait for a minibus. I keep moving. Fast enough so I don’t look lost, but slow enough that I don’t get too far from my office (or the armed guard that stands at the corner of the street). I always breathe a sigh of relief when I hear the minibus horn honking behind me, and I look back and see the guy, hanging half way out of the sliding door, yelling “CAPE TOWN!” All while the van is still moving.

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The main minibus station

The minibus system is informal (the drivers aren’t registered taxi drivers), and very inconsistent. In the morning, I walk from my house to the main station, just over a mile away. The driver will not leave the station until the van is full. Jam-packed full. People sitting on the floor full. This usually only takes five to ten minutes, but it’s hard to say. The same is true when I leave work, sometimes I cross the street and a van just happens to be there, picking up other passengers, other times I have to wait a couple minutes.


Capetonians will give differing opinions on the minibus system. Some swear by it, others won’t even consider it. The minibus is the most economical choice. My 3.5 mile commute only costs me seven Rand (45 cents), and an Uber costs 45-55 Rand. It’s true, there are risks, but in Cape Town there is always a risk. You just have to manage those risks. I never get in a minibus if there are no other passengers in the van. I never carry more cash than is absolutely necessary, and I never take my phone out of my bag. Muggings are about as common as sand on the beach, so you have to take every precaution-especially when you’re using public transportation. You never know who is going to get off at the same stop as you.

Before I left, everyone kept telling me, “be careful, Cape Town is dangerous.” I had no idea. It is, that is no secret. Anyone who lives here will tell you that, and that’s probably after they have been mugged a time or two. The first week I was here, I was constantly afraid. I couldn’t sleep because I thought someone would break into the house. I couldn’t walk down the street without having crippling sense of fear, that made my whole body tense up. It’s better now that I am more familiar with the city. I am not afraid (usually), but I am always aware of my surroundings.

“A head full of fears has no space for dreams”


3 thoughts on “Strangers in Vans

  1. Marcia Morse says:

    My husband and are are friends of Kathy and Mike– I am really enjoying your blog- I’m learning a lot. Glad you have this opportunity!! Marcia Morse


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