Public transport in Cape Town

I briskly walked past a row of smokers outside Nando’s on Long Street. Only a week earlier, I would have had my jacket zipped up to my neck and my hands stuck firmly in my pockets because of the cold. Poor boy from West Africa. Thank God it wasn’t a windy evening. Since I had not got used to seeing cars drive on the left side of the road I looked both ways a good number of times before crossing towards that shout that had me confounded for a few days: “POOOINT!” We were headed for the posh side of town. Sea Point had an ocean view and gorgeous buildings. It seemed almost scandalous to be going there by mini-bus taxi. As I plopped myself into the backseat, jarring pain shot through my hip-bone as it struck metal. I could have been in a trotro in Accra.

If it looks like a trotro, feels like a trotro, it's a trotro.

Proper metro buses actually did run the route to Sea Point. Unfortunately, none was ever around when I needed one, so here I was, rooted in a mini-bus taxi – or trotro, as I know it. The seat had sunk in, making the metal frame a lot more accessible, so I endured my balancing act between cushion and metal with each sway of the bus. We were elbowing our way through traffic at break-neck speed. I had placed my life in the hands of a daredevil driver for the princely sum of 5 Rand (just about 1 Ghana Cedi).

There was no conversation in the car. I already missed the tongue clicks of native Xhosa speakers. Maybe nobody knew anyone. That never stopped anyone in Ghana, though.

We had left the stunning city centre with its beautiful monuments, hotels and office complexes far behind. Past the magnificent Cape Town Stadium, and along the streets lined with shops and restaurants we zoomed like an ambulance towards Sea Point. The mate was sitting awkwardly on the small backless foldable seat, just the way we do it in Ghana, booming every few seconds, “POOOINT!” Next to me was a young Asian man vigorously shaking a bottle of frozen vitamin water, whatever that is. I was glad when he got off the bus, and for selfish reason. I wanted his seat. Unfortunately, like most coveted things, it offered no satisfaction. I found myself perched on another piece of metal.

Sometimes, it took me a while to hear what South Africans were saying, so I hardly heard a word of what the driver was saying to me. That he was sipping on a Coke while facing his windscreen didn’t make things any easier. However, since I was the last one left in the car, I supposed I was being asked where I would get down. With my best frown, throwing Ghanaian hospitality to the winds of Cape Town, I said I was going to the last stop. He sized me up and down and sped off.

Mercedes Benz taxi. Definitely not Accra.

That’s what you get for travelling cheap, but regular taxi had cost me 10 Rand per kilometer when I moved from a backpacker hostel to The Ambassador Hotel. I tried to hide my horror as I saw the numbers on the metre ticking away like excited mosquitoes, and vowed to never jump into another taxi until my days in Cape Town were done.

The similarities to a trotro ride in Accra were confirmed when the driver stopped right next to another mini-bus taxi parked on a small curve, effectively blocking the road as the mate, sticking out right up to the waist through his window, bellowed for prospective passengers. All the angry BMW and Jaguar drivers behind could do was blow their horns and whisper what I presume would be obscenities in Afrikaans. As quickly as the bus arrived, they were heading back towards Long Street. No waiting, no delays.

I was at the end of the road and had no idea where I was, but since a part of the rocky beach looked familiar, I walked towards it. Runners with iPods strapped to their biceps went by, as did people walking dogs of all breeds. I was gaping like a Johnny-Just-Come at the luxurious apartments which looked nicer than my hotel. The sun was descending behind Robben Island on the horizon as container ships sailed towards the harbour. A white boat sped towards the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront as well. I breathed in the salty air and gazed at a couple sprawled on a blanket, sipping white wine on the white beach. This is what Jamestown should have looked like, I agonized to myself. I sighed heavily, for the next day, I would be leaving Cape Town and returning to Accra, and my daily commute from Bridge to Ridge.



About Kwaku Dankwa

By day, I'm an advertising copywriter. That's what I've done all my working life (National Service doesn't count). Husband of Esther, father of Jesse and twin boys Mark and Andrew, and servant of Christ. I previously wrote a blog on the dramatic side of public transport in Accra, "The Daily Commute: From Bridge to Ridge." Enjoy.
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14 Responses to Public transport in Cape Town

  1. Unc. K. says:

    You mean you went to Cape Town without once going up either by cable car or road to the iconic Table Mountain? Bad miss, that, all the spectacular views and cheeky but amusing weasels.

    What were you doing there anyway, business or pleasure?

    Welcome back home.

  2. Francis Adu-Gyamfi says:

    Love your caricatured banner. The smile is just like I remember it.

  3. Raj says:

    Very well described…i almost could see the beach and its environs. On the main topic what can i say…i guess all trotro rides have the same similarities right? My very funny part is “jarring pain shot through my hip-bone as it struck metal” so i guess no where cool. nice piece.

  4. Yaw Perbi says:

    Good one–well, as usual! Now I’m thinking: what will it take ‘James Town’ to become ‘Cape Town’?

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Instead of admiring Cape Town on my first day, I found myself very angry with our leaders. I was just thinking that we had been cheated over here by them. Sure, the Europeans stayed for a long time, but isn’t South Africa on the same continent as Ghana? And now, I’m just angrier when I see James Town. Beach, lagoon, lighthouse, fishing harbour, historic forts … elsewhere, only movie stars and the nouveau-riche would’ve been been able to afford any property there!

  5. Ama says:

    Thanks for taking requests.

    On another subject, what do you have to do to get advertising on your site??? You know your blog has now officially arrived, don’t you?! ; )

  6. lyzza says:

    true trotro user to the end…

  7. Guy Lou says:

    the beauty is in Gh, you do not have to be rich to live in a waterfront property.
    laissez-faire papa paaaaaaa

  8. Obenten says:

    Welcome back, Asomasi. We missed our weekly lol. Yes I join fellow faithfuls to request for more juicy nkonkonsa from Cape Town.

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Hi! Well, I’m back. I’m glad to know that I was missed.

      However, this sadly closes the chapter on Cape Town. There wasn’t enough time to get a thorough experience of their public transport system that could be possibly engaging enough to go on. I hope you understand.

  9. Jeous Adu Ariva Mendes says:

    So after all the swag S.A has, they commute in trotros. But under a fancy name as mini-bus taxi. Haha, a trotro shall always be trotro, whether in GH or SA. Nice piece though

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Well, to their credit they have some really nice buses. I should’ve used one of them once. Where’s all the time when you wanna do all that.

      But trotro is trotro oo, Jeous. It’s a fairly common thing around Africa, I should think. In Kenya they call them ‘matatu’ or something like that. Hmmm… maybe I should go from Egypt to South Africa in the front seat of a trotro, hey?

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