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How a rowdy taxi rank was tamed

TUMELO MOUWANE
The Lobatse taxi rank is a picture of tranquil PIC: TUMELO MOUWANE
In the midst of the national outcry over the abuse of a young woman at the Gaborone Bus Rank, Mmegi Correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE examines how the Lobatse rank was transformed from the Wild West, to a haven for commuters

A well-known Setswana proverb states: ‘Tamati ha e bodile e bodisa tse dingwe’ and this is what typically happens in terms of the behaviour of groups of individuals. The English version of this proverb, one bad apple spoils the bunch, finds itself in situations where the misbehaviour of one or two people is taken to represent the entire group.

In many towns around the country, bad apples or tomatoes have spoilt the rest in taxi and bus ranks, leading to them becoming known as cesspits of verbal and physical abuse, particularly against young women. The abuse is led by drivers, their touts and random taxi rank layabouts, who use mob psychology to intimidate, taunt or ridicule any soft target.

I too was once a victim of this abuse in Gaborone a few years ago when I was travelling from school on my way home.  I was dressed in black from head to toe as I had a presentation that required students to wear all black as part of the school identity that day.

As I stepped out of the bus, one tout shouted “moloi ke yoo” probably because black is associated with bad luck. Others joined in and soon a rowdy mob was growing in numbers and making fun of me. I was fortunate in that I was able to beat a hasty retreat and catch a nearby ride home.

The incident left me shocked afraid and leaning towards stereotyping all bus and taxi ranks. However, after moving to Lobatse, I learnt that the border town had broken the mould and was able to reshape the ethical conduct of the bus and taxi rank.

Part of the reason for the success is that Lobatse being a town of 30,000, the operators and others in the industry quickly realised that their livelihoods were intimately linked to the service they were providing a small population dependent largely on public transport.

There was little room for boorish behaviour in the symbiotic relationship.

Another reason for the town’s success in stamping out the rot, is the presence of a strong taxi service association that insists on respect of the law and ethical conduct by all operators.

Despite a few isolated incidents once in a long while, the association has tightened the reins on operators and the results are visible. Public transport within the town is reliable and customers are satisfied with the calibre of service they receive. Firm action and censure is quickly taken whenever an operator steps out of line, for the sake of the mutually beneficial relationship between taxis, buses and their customers.

A snap survey by Mmegi this week at the rank, indicated that many commuters are happy with the state of affairs. Omphitlhetse Kabomo said the operator’s are reliable and respectful, something that he

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says is hard to find nowadays.

“The internal public transport service in Lobatse is quite satisfactory. The taxis are reliable and they take you wherever you want to go provided it is within town. The operators in our town are quite cooperative as compared to those in the city. “If you go around the country you will find that public transport operators are usually a headache to customers, but for us in Lobatse, things run smoothly,” he said.

Lobatse Taxi Service Association chairperson, Thabo Modisaemang says the organisation compels all operators to join in order to regulate standards for public service.

Modisaemang said the association works with other stakeholders such as the police, Department of Road Transport and Safety, as well as civic leaders, to ensure discipline is maintained.

“Just like any other job or business there are always challenges, which may be faced by either commuters or operators. We compel operators to join our taxi association in order to keep them abreast of information and to alert them of developments.

“We also work hand in hand with other stakeholders in order to address challenges. The police and department of transport in Lobatse are very helpful in making sure that discipline prevails at all times among operators and commuters,” he said.

One challenge the town frequently faces is where some operators shun certain routes or trips due to the perceived non-profitability.

“Our biggest challenge is of those operators who are very selective in terms of destinations they go to especially on month ends, but we are still working on a permanent solution for the challenge,” he said.

“When it comes to general behaviour towards customers however, we pull the strings hard on offenders so that we protect the reputation of our association and our service. Members of the association in Lobatse are aware of the recent incident in Gaborone and say they feel ashamed.

The association’s treasurer, Gift Molefhe says the incident embarrassed them as public transport operators. “Our job as public transport operators is to assist the public rather than to ridicule them. This has damaged our reputation as public transport operators. They could have at least made sure they take her home or to the nearest police station where the young woman could have been assisted. We condemn the incident,” Molefhe said.

However, a taxi operator at the Lobatse rank is quick to defend the industry. He says from the video circulating on social media, one cannot conclude that public transport operators were involved.

“This is a very horrible act and we seriously condemn it.

“Taxi drivers will obviously be suspected only because it happened in an area where they operate, but no one can be sure.

“We must not jump to conclude that it was done by them,” he said, while requesting anonymity.



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