There is a blue “Zola Budd’ taxi on the road with a sticker on the back that says, “Move over – Nomsa”.
The sticker tells no lies – the driver is a woman and her name is Nomsa Ngo-Ngcobo.
Nomsa starts ‘shuttling’ passengers from Zola township to downtown Jo’burg before the sun comes up. “I have to be up early because that is the time when workers go to work. That means half past four in the morning,” says Nomsa.
Before leaving home in the morning, Nomsa first checks the oil and petrol -and that the taxi is in good condition. Who said that was a man’s job only?
By the time the sun goes down, she has lost count of how many times she has driven from Soweto to town and back again. It is a long day for Nomsa. It is past 9 o’clock when she drives the mini-bus back into her yard where it sleeps for the night.
REVVING UP THE VALAZA
Nomsa has always liked driving. “I was taught to drive by my father in 1974,” says Nomsa. “He had this beautiful Valiant car. It was everybody’s dream to own a ‘Valaza’, as it was called in those times.
“I always enjoyed sitting in the front seat of our car. I loved it when my father revved up the car, changed gears, and zoomed off into the dusty streets of the township, leaving a thick cloud of dust behind. That is what a “Valaza” was best at, and it had speed.”
Nomsa says she was scared to drive at first. “I used to look at the brakes and gears, and not at the road. I did some other foolish things – like turning my head around to look for cars instead of using the mirror.”
But Nomsa’s father taught his daughter well. She was soon driving like a champion. But Nomsa did not get her driving licence straight away. “I forgot about driving for a while,” she says.
“I looked for a job and found one as a saleslady. But it was not a well paid job. So in 1978 I decided to get a driver’s licence. I thought that with a licence, I could maybe get a better paying job one day.
In 1985 I got a job delivering goods in a car. This is how my driving improved. Then I thought to myself: “If I am smart enough to drive a car, maybe I am smart enough to drive a taxi.’
“I knew that, as a woman, it was going to be difficult to get a job driving someone else’s taxi. So I began saving. I left my job and spent the whole of 1986 selling clothes. Then last year I bought my own taxi. I had to dig deep into my pocket to buy it.”
SUCH A FRIENDLY FACE!
Nomsa thought a lot about the problems that taxi drivers have. And she wondered if, as a woman, she would be able to handle all these problems.
“I kept asking myself questions like: What if people do not use a taxi that is driven by a woman? What if there is a fight in my taxi? What if passengers refuse to pay because I am a woman? And on top of this, I did not know anything about the engine of a car.”
Nomsa also worried about the fines taxi drivers get from the ‘bo- Chack-las’- or the traffic cops, as they are called.
“All these stories about fines did not make me change my mind. I knew that there was only one way to stop collecting fines, and that was to be careful on the road. That way my money will stay in the bank and not end up in the traffic department.”
Before Nomsa “hit the road’, she says there were a few things she had to do. “First I got my public driver’s licence. Then I went to the South African Black Taxi Association to have my taxi registered.”
Nomsa had one more worry: Would other male taxi drivers treat her as their equal? To her surprise, she found them to be more than friendly.
One of the taxi drivers, Bra Skip, says about Nomsa: “Some of us did not think that Nomsa was strong enough to be a taxi driver. Maybe we were a little bit shocked. You see, for a long time this job has been for men only.”
“But since Nomsa came, we have changed our way of thinking. Nomsa has even helped us in some ways. She drives so carefully that other drivers are following her example. Anyway, who can shy away from a person with a face as friendly as Nomsa’s?”
DRONKIES AND HOTHEADS
Nomsa stopped worrying about all the problems when she began carrying passengers. “I loved my job right from the beginning because most of the passengers liked me. Nobody likes fighting with a woman,” says Nomsa.
But she does have her problems. “Some hot heads who will stop at nothing to start a fight – especially at night, when they are on their way home after drinking in town.
“Some drunk male passengers sometimes do not want to pay. They say that they did not know that they were being driven by a woman. Others wake up and tell me that they want their change – yet they have not paid.
“Sometimes these drunken passengers get so mad that it is not safe to drive with them in the taxi. They are not only dangerous to the driver but to all the passengers. When this happens, I stop the taxi and ask them to get out.
“Sometimes passengers, who are brave enough, help me when I have problems. And sometimes, if I see another taxi coming, I will ask the driver to stop and help me with a troublesome passenger.”
But Nomsa can’t always ask the passengers or other taxi drivers for help. Most times she has to help herself.
“If a tyre gets a puncture, I cannot ask the passengers or another taxi driver to help me. That I fix myself. Changing tyres is a heavy job, but it is not difficult. It is also the same with the engine. Now I know some parts of the engine and I can fix it most of the time without any help.”
NO TIME FOR HOMEWORK
But there are some problems that Nomsa cannot fix – like the long hours she spends away from home. “I like driving but it does no good to somebody with a family like me. I am single but have two school going kids. I never really have time to help them with their homework.
“The only time I see them properly is on my day off on Wednesdays. Luckily my mother stays at home and is always there to care for them. When they are grown up I hope they will understand why I did not spend much time with them.”
Nomsa has one other hope. She hopes that nobody will bump into her when she is driving. She has another sticker at the back of her mini-bus to remind people to be careful. The sticker says, “I spent my last cent to buy this famous car.”
So next time you see a blue “Zola Budd” with black and white stripes coming towards you, please make way for Nomsa!