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Thembi’s story: Surviving the Taxi Violence

Bendi diniwe. We had reached Govan Mbeki Road and I was already so tired, but I didn’t have a choice, I had to keep moving, I had to get home. For the first time in my life, I have never walked that far, never.

Communities under siege

The taxi strike started in Cape Town on Thursday 3 August and spread across Western Cape towns as far as Worcester. Lasting just over a week, the strike had quickly turned violent, leaving a trail of devastation. Supply chains were cut off including access to shops, clinics, and schools. For over a week, many of my colleagues could not come to work as they did not have transport and were literally living under siege in their communities.

Photo credit: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

I spoke to our receptionist, Thembi, 56, who shared what she experienced on the day.

We were told we could leave early because there were no taxis operating. I was feeling so scared because there was no transport, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to me because I was going to walk. Fortunately, my colleagues and I walked together in a group. Thank goodness we decided to do this, because if it wasn’t for them, I know I wouldn’t have made it. As we walked down Govan Mbeki Road, we passed terrible scenes of burning cars, stones being thrown on top of the burning cars, and we even heard shots being fired. There were altercations between police and taxis. It was terrifying. We were just walking, walking and walking, and there were so many people who were walking, some coming from Wynberg. I heard that people who walked from town came home around midnight. Luckily, we had decided to buy water at Lansdowne Corner as it was quite hot. We continued walking, walking past DSV, passing Turfhall Bridge, and onwards to Mitchells Plain. My feet were burning because I was wearing uncomfortable boots.

My colleague saw a bus and tried to wave the bus down, shouting, “Bus driver, please stop, she’s sick!” Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t stop, and we had to continue walking. At that point, I felt like dying. I told them “I’m done, I can’t walk anymore!” I was the oldest in the group, so my colleagues kept on encouraging me to continue. At the entrance to Mitchells Plain, my colleague phoned her partner and he arranged to meet us at a safe spot. He arrived and as I sat down in the car, I felt an overwhelming sense of tiredness. My feet, everything felt “tight”. Everything was throbbing. They dropped me in Harare, Khayelitsha and I had to walk a little distance to my house. When I finally got home, around 6 pm, I just sat on the stoep for a bit. I had no energy to do anything, I couldn’t even open the door. My feet were burning. When I got inside, I had a hot bath which made me feel so much better. The next day my muscles were aching, but the painkillers helped. For the first time in my life, I have never walked that far, never.

Despite the harrowing journey, and although it took them about five hours on foot, we are thankful that our colleagues made it home safely.

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