Covid-19 risk in village taxi rides

Zukile Majova

With Covid-19 cases on the rise, taxi passengers in rural Eastern Cape are at risk from overcrowding on their long dusty commutes.

Under the lockdown regulations these mini-trucks, called oquqa or gurugurus, leave the ranks with the authorised maximum of 10 passengers. 

But after leaving town and passing the main roadblocks, they fill up with passengers, increasing the risk of coronavirus infection.

A passenger on a Mbizana to Umtata taxi said passengers can’t complain when taxi drivers disregard the Covid-19 regulations.

“We all want to reach our destinations without scuffles so we keep quiet when they load more people along the way.

“Unfortunately a three hour journey, like from Mbizana to Umtata, ends up taking longer because the driver keeps picking up hitchhikers along the way,” the passenger said.

As many as 20 adults and pupils in uniform pack into Kia and Hyundai mini-trucks – the only way of getting to the pension paypoints in town for these villagers.

In this hours-long ride, passengers often travel with goats, chickens, paraffin, firewood, and alcohol.

The roads are untarred, bumpy, and long. People have no choice but to put up with unregulated fares.

Nqobile Masuku – who has used the taxis in areas like Umtata – says people bring anything they want to take on the journey. “I have seen people taking chickens, goats, firewood, and anything they think of carrying. Some buy booze in town to sell in their villages,” said Nqobile.

In most cases, commuters get to their homes tired and covered in dust – and hopefully not with coronavirus infections.