EVEN WOMEN CAN DO IT
By: Tony Manyangadze
African cultures, Jewish religion and the Muslim religion are very strict about the differences between the duties of males and females. The kitchen is a woman’s main office, bearing children is her primary duty and doing all the domestic chores around the homestead is what is expected of her. Meanwhile men, on the other hand, go out and work. This has not been the case with Nqobile Dhlamini, a Durban woman who spends more than twelve hours of her day behind the steering wheel of a minibus taxi, challenging the existing gender roles.
“Sorry Bhuti, Workshop, South Beach, Wheel ePoint la, Uyahamba bhuti, eh sorry?” touts Nqobile, while making imaginary circles with her four-finger. If you live in or around Durban, then this should be a familiar routine; this is how minibus taxi drivers and sliding door operators communicate with passengers, informing them about where their taxi is going. They all seem to do it in the similar mesmerising way as if they all went for touting lessons.
The 30-year-old mother of one has been driving taxis for the past three years. Just like most young kids growing up she dreamt of being a doctor, a paramedic or a nurse only to realise, that life is not lived according to dreams, but according to reality. Upon completing her Matric many years ago, Nqobile could not find a job and her single mother could not afford for her to go to university and further her education. An unexpected opportunity knocked on her door one day- that of driving a taxi. She had no choice but to grab it and make the most of it.
“There are no jobs here. I just could not sit at home and do nothing. I realised if I get a driver’s licence I could drive a taxi,” she said while making an emergency stop to avoid another taxi that had just pulled in front of her.
Being one of the few women taxi drivers today, Nqobile recalls how it was when she first started her uncommon occupation. Generally, people are stereotypical especially when unusual events like a woman driving a taxi occur. Like gold purified in a crucible, Nqobile has been through a lot.
“First it was very difficult dealing with passengers. Most of them do not trust that I can drive just as good as my fellow male drivers,” she said. “Some customers come in my taxi drunk and just because I am a woman they refuse to pay, and sometimes I am forced to retaliate. But I am used to it now, I actually enjoy it,” she added while increasing the volume to the stereo and grooving along to the ear-splitting house music playing.
As a mother of one, Nqobile tries to be home whenever she is not working. Her day begins at 6 in the morning and ends after 6 in the evening. “It’s a decent job. At least I get paid at the end of the month, and I am able to look after my family- I have a daughter, three brothers and a mother,” she said.
“At first my family did not welcome the news, especially my mother, but now she is fine with it,” Nqobile added while trying to hide a smile.
Even though she is driving a taxi now, Nqobile still believes her childhood dream can come true. After years of disappointments, she is now following her dream at Meditrax College, in Durban, where she is studying towards her Bachelor of Arts in Paramedics. All thanks to the job, Nqobile cashes over R 1500.00 per day, and at the end of the month she earns over R5000.00.
“People must not wait for someone to call you asking if you want a job- get a licence and drive a taxi,” she advised. “It’s not a bad job, it pays at the end of the day,” she said with an encouraging voice.
Its apparent that Nqobile has managed to demystify the stigma around gender roles, some of her male counterparts still have a myopic vision. Unfotunatley they don’t see it as ground breaking or the first steps of a new era of equality.
“I don’t believe the taxi industry is meant for women, sometimes it can be very rough. Women should do lighter jobs,” said a taxi owner.
He was very adamant that it is almost impossible to see women one day rising through the ranks within this rugged industry.
“Here in Durban Central, we have 37 taxi associations and non of them have been chaired by a woman. It’s because the industry requires the use of muscles more than brains,” he added.
It might appear as if it’s a dead end, but no one is certain of what tomorrow holds. The future might seem bleak but it all depends on how far ahead of the future one can see. In the blink of an eye tables can turn, tables are turning, women like Nqobile are way ahead in rotating this old and rusty table of a system were societal roles are determined by gender and not ability. Slowly but surely, change is dawning.