Mobility

David Schmidt

The Transporter

Thabang Molefe started out as a mini-bus taxi driver. After assisting his father he set out on his own. It was hard work, dangerous too. But that is all history. Today Thabang is a key figure in a black economic empowerment project that is transforming public transport in Cape Town.

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PART 1

Thabang Molefe’s personal journey mirrors many of the changes in the transport industry in Cape Town. Thabang, now 43, was involved in the minibus taxi industry from its early days and had first-hand experience of the tumultuous conflicts that underpinned its emergence in the 1980s. He was key player in establishing the Central Unity Taxi Association (CUTA), an important association in the central city, and went on to become a successful minibus taxi fleet-owner. From 2009 he was CUTA’s chief negotiator in dealings with the City of Cape Town over the introduction of the MyCiti Integrated Rapid Transit system, a process that saw Thabang surrender his 12 operating licenses in late 2013 for compensation, including a stake in the MyCiti service. Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille has described the R2.5 billion deal as Cape Town’s biggest black economic empowerment project. 

Thabang is the largest shareholder in Ditokelo Investments, a private company that holds CUTA members’ shares in Transpeninsula, one of the two taxi-association-based companies contracted to operate the MyCiti buses on behalf of the City of Cape Town for the next 12 years. He is also the non-executive chairman of Transpeninsula. Thabang has invested his compensation from his business dealings in rental property and a new minibus taxi-operating license for the Cape Town-Saldanha route. Notwithstanding his professional success, Thabang remains a modest man. Married, with two children—he has a young boy and 19-year-old daughter studying law at the University of the Western Cape—Thabang recently moved from Milnerton to a comfortable suburban house in Panorama. He tends to shun the trappings of excess and drives a small sedan.

Molefe's lifelong experience in the city's tumultuous transport industry has made him aware of the challenges in creating a modern business culture of transparency and accountability within it. Molefe has invested heavily in building the skills of himself and the Ditokelo shareholder in regard to corporate governance. In this picture, he chats to some of his colleagues in the industry

In person, Thabang is soft-spoken and generous with his time and knowledge, volunteering many details about his life story. Thabang’s biography is deeply human and marked by familiar struggles, notably that age-old conflict between a demanding father and rebellious son. But his story is also particular, with moments of exile and struggle, which he faced-off with grit and endurance. When he was a child in the late 1970s, Thabang would get up very early, put on an overall that was much too big, and help his father, Joe Molefe, repair motor vehicles in the front yard of their Gugulethu home. This would resume after school often late into the night. It was a routine all the Molefe boys were expected to participate in. 

“We used to help him disassemble engines and we would then have to wash all the parts of the engine so he could re-assemble it when he got home the next evening,” says Thabang. “In those days people had these six-cylinder vehicles with very heavy starter motors. He could not take the engine out on his own so we had to help him using a steel pole for leverage. It was tough. But it meant we were good weightlifters and could defend ourselves if we were picked on.”

When he was a child in the late 1970s, Thabang would get up very early, put on an overall that was much too big, and help his father, Joe Molefe, repair motor vehicles in the front yard of their Gugulethu home

Joe’s day job was as a truck mechanic in Montague Gardens. A “disco kind of guy” with an entrepreneurial streak, this at a time when being a black businessman was very difficult, Joe also ran a nightspot in the backyard of the family home on Fridays and Saturdays. Thabang’s cousins collected entrance money and a body-builder friend of his father worked as the bouncer. His mother, who demanded customers use a rear entrance to avoid them going through the house, sold soup and bread. Thabang remembers helping his father count the takings—“a lot of coins”—after these events. Police raids put an end to this sideline business, but Joe continued to fix cars after hours while working on other schemes. 

“He did a lot of things at the same time,” says Thabang. “The same as I do. I got that from him. He felt the pressure of having many kids. There were eight of us.”     

The Molefe brothers were a tight bunch, partly because of their ethnic background: Sotho in a largely Xhosa community. Thabang was singled out as a foreigner and called names by other Gugulethu residents. But Joe had instilled in his boys values of self-reliance and family: the Molefe boys walked the 5km route to school together, the older brothers providing protection.

In other respects Thabang’s childhood was typical. He avoided working on cars with his father by playing soccer late or ducking out of the house just before Joe arrived back from work. There was however no getting away from Joe and hard work. Joe believed in toughening up his boys. For punishment he would make them stand on one leg while holding up their arms against a wall. It was tiring and painful, recalls Thabang, but it also made the boys strong—a useful outcome for working on cars.

Joe’s treatment of his boys often prompted arguments between Thabang’s parents. His mother would reprimand his father for the way he treated the boys, as well as for keeping them from studying by working on the cars. His father would simply reply that one day the children would have to feed their own big families.

PART 2

“When people talk about surviving, I understand what they are talking about because of that,” says Thabang. Looking back, he is sanguine about his upbringing. He says that his father did what he had to in order to survive. “He did not want his children to be useless. He taught us the importance of being self-sufficient, of being able to do things on your own, and doing them in a proper manner. He would never re-assemble a car engine using dirty parts and if you brought a car back that he had fixed, he would fix the problem without charging you. He always did what he told you he would do. He did not take shortcuts because they always cost in the long run. I learnt that from him. If you do something, do a proper job and do it right the first time.”

The mechanical skills Thabang learnt from his father later enabled him to reduce his maintenance and repairs bills by 60-70% when he became a taxi operator. The lessons of stripping engines, cleaning parts, resetting brakes, understanding the mechanics of how engines work, identifying problems and fixing them went much deeper than developing a strong body or a mechanical skill—they instilled essential life skills: discipline, knowledge of how things worked, and an ability to problem-solve.

If you do something, do a proper job and do it right the first time

But these lessons only clarified themselves much later. At the time, Joe’s strict treatment of his son prompted resentment. Thabang rebelled. Joe responded by packing Thabang off to family in Sharpeville, a township between Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging, south of Johannesburg. This is not the full story. The Molefes were a large family living in two-bedroom home. Their living arrangements were cramped. As a result three of the Molefe boys were sent to live with families without kids in Gauteng in the mid-1980s. The Molefe boys arrived in this industrial heartland during a period of intensifying conflict and resistance. During protests at Thabang’s new high school, the principal’s Chevrolet was burnt. The police response was emphatic. “It was terrible,” says Thabang. “We were blue at the back and our eyes were swollen.” Not long afterwards the Molefe boys were back in Cape Town.

Molefe started driving a taxi for his father when he was 14 years old. By the time he was 16, he was driving full-time and trying to fit in school at the same time . A few employee transport contracts when the Waterfront opened after 1990 which further increased the opportunity - his taste for the industry was quickly established.

Thabang’s homecoming was bittersweet. Joe told his son that he would have to look after himself from now on—there were younger siblings who needed his support. At the same time Thabang learnt that his father, who had lost his day job and was struggling to make ends meet delivering newspapers, had secured a taxi permit with the help of a friend who was already operating with a Chrysler Valiant, the main taxi vehicle at the time. Joe demonstrated his entrepreneurial flair when he became one of the first few taxi operators in Cape Town to buy a minibus. With the boys back home, Joe also decided to invest in additional vehicles. He secured employee transport contracts, notably at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which opened in 1990. At age 16, while still busy with his schooling, Thabang started driving full-time.

A long-distance taxi sign at Cape Town's main rank in the City Bowl.

PART 3

The early 1990s were an exciting time to be involved in the minibus taxi industry. Cape Town’s black population grew rapidly as the wall of apartheid crumbled, many living in the informal settlements that had mushroomed on the outskirts of the city. The existing public transport infrastructure was unable to cope with the rapid urbanization and sprawl. With little new investment in bus and rail services to meet the growing mobility needs of the city’s population, the minibus taxi industry stepped into the breach and began to provide a viable service.

The taxi industry had relatively low barriers to entry for black entrepreneurs with little capital or education. Drawing on modest means and enterprise they were able to build profitable businesses providing a relatively cheap, flexible and convenient service, particularly to poor communities. Within a few years the minibus taxi was the single-largest urban public transport mode. Today, 65% of public transport passengers in metropolitan areas across the country use minibus taxis, compared to 21% who use trains and 14% who take the bus. Perhaps the most astounding fact about the growth of this industry it that it was achieved without any public subsidies.  

Thabang finished school at Steenberg High, matriculating in 1990. In the summer months, he would cycle from Gugulethu through the Philippi and Grassy Park to school—a distance of more than 18km—because it was quicker than public transport. In winter, he used the train from Nyanga, changing at Pinelands or Salt River. After completing school he went on to study electrical engineering at Maitland College.

GETTING AROUND

The sprawl-based urban form of Cape Town and other South African cities has necessitated the emergence of minibus taxis. They are nimble, can cover short and long distances, and offer an alternative to aging rail and bus infrastructure. Public transport has been put on a long-term transformation trajectory through the introduction of the MiCiti Bus Rapid Transit system in 2012.(Source: City of Cape Town)

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Throughout his studies Thabang continued to drive taxis—at night, doing contracts collecting workers, and over weekends doing passenger trips. The hours were tough, nightshifts usually ending after midnight. During this period, Thabang sold the car his father had bought him to mark his matriculation and used the proceeds towards buying his first minibus taxi. By this time he had secured his own V&A Waterfront contract. Thabang also applied to be a member of Lagunya, the major established taxi association for township operators. He wanted to stand on his own two feet. 

Despite its popular uptake by commuters, the minibus taxi industry was not without problems. Inadequate regulation and enforcement had resulted in over-trading on many routes. Powerful individuals dominated many associations and exerted power through coercion and force. Wars between rival operators became a feature of the social landscape. Around 1992, a major conflict erupted between Lagunya and Western Cape Black Taxi Association (WEBTA). The Molefes were Lagunya members; on the same street lived a group of WEBTA owners. Life became very unsafe. 

“The taxi industry is not an industry for the faint-hearted person,” says Thabang, who decided to leave town. He moved to Lesotho where he started a taxi service between the town of Butha Buthe and Hapokani, a nearby village. He ran this business for two years, assisted by a high school friend from Cape Town, Dumisani Mbelu, who worked as his “gartjie” or sliding door operator. Rural Lesotho was very different to the townships of Cape Town.

In 2009, Thabang was called to an informal meeting with city officials who introduced him to the concept of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Cape Town’s plans to introduce their version of this approach termed IRT. He saw this as an opportunity to get out of the increasingly dangerous minibus taxi industry.

“One of biggest problems we had in Lesotho was that the taxi people there were very calm,” tells Thabang. “Their industry was not as vigorous as ours. If you came first, and I came second to the rank, then we would stay in this order on the line throughout the day. But what is the point of sitting in line at the rank if that is not where the people are.” 

The Capetonians shook up the status quo, prompting the “old guard” to organise a gang of young men to disrupt Thabang’s operation by travelling on the vehicle and then refusing to pay. Thabang and Dumisani decided to take them on. They beat up one of the gang members when he travelled on their vehicle. When they later returned to the rank, gang members were waiting to attack them with stones. Undaunted, Thabang and Dumisani pursued them with car jacks as weapons. Drivers from other routes joined in, lending support to Thabang. This tipped the balance in his favour.

65% of public transport passengers in metropolitan areas across the country use minibus taxis, compared to 21% who use trains and 14% who take the bus

“From that day things went smoothly,” he says. “We ended up making the rules for the rank and changed the stereotyped way of thinking. It was no longer first come, first served. Now, if you drove past someone needing to be collected, you became first. That is how we transformed the taxi industry there.” 

Lesotho proved lucrative for Thabang. He made enough money to buy a plot and built a three-bedroom house for himself. He also upgraded his minibus taxi, purchasing a 25-seat Nissan bus. But he missed home. Every couple of months, he and Dumisani visited Cape Town, always travelling together out of fear of remaining alone in Lesotho. In 1994, Thabang’s girlfriend (now wife) in Cape Town, Patricia Mohutsioa, fell pregnant with their daughter. He decided to return to Cape Town and traded in his Japanese-made bus for a 16-seater Nissan E20, which he fixed up for use as a taxi in Cape Town.

PART 4

When Thabang returned to Cape Town he made the decision not to join either Lagunya or WEBTA. Instead, he worked the busy CBD. It was safer and less prone to violence and coercion. His brother was already operating in the area, using a leased permit from a member of the predominantly coloured Peninsula Taxi Association (PTA), which controlled the routes in the area. “My idea was to buy a permit,” says Thabang. “Leasing a permit was never something I was interested in doing. I viewed it as making somebody else rich.” Eventually he persuaded an old operator who wanted to get out of the industry to sell him a permit in the area for R15 000. “That was the first time I got registered as a permit holder. In the township, you just worked. Now for the first time I had a permit of my own.”

At Cape Town's central taxi rank. With both feet still being firmly in the industry, Molefe has gone beyond being just a taxi operator. In addition to his interests in the transport sector, he owns portfolio of rental properties

PTA was the recognised taxi association operating in the central city area, which included the routes from the CBD to Sea Point. Anyone wishing to acquire a permit on central city routes at the time required the support of PTA. But there was also ferment in the association. A number of the black operators and drivers were unhappy. They felt that they were being discriminated against and blocked from obtaining their own permits, which they could only access by buying an existing permit from a PTA member and not through support from the association. Together they decided to establish their own association. Thabang was initially reluctant to join the embryonic new association out of fear of losing his membership of PTA, and with it his permit and the right to operate. 

Thabang, together with another black PTA permit holder, however decided to join the new association, which once registered would be known as Central Unity Taxi Association (CUTA). Both of them were part of a gooi-gooi, an informal savings group that operated on similar lines to a stokvel. It was this informal group, says Thabang, not threats, that provided him with the necessary social connection as well as momentum to make the move. “These guys threatened me but I only gave in because I was a member of the gooi-gooi,” insists Thabang. “It was a risky step but I went with my instinct on this.”

The first CUTA meetings were held under the incomplete freeway overpass on Cape Town’s foreshore. Thembinkosi Plaatje was elected chairman. Zolile Mabuda was the secretary and Donald Xhelo the treasurer. Thabang served as vice-secretary. The group hired a lawyer to fight their case at the provincial licensing board and won the right to become a registered association on the grounds that PTA operators were leasing the permits to the CUTA operators, which was illegal (although it remains a common practice across the industry). Another factor that played in their favour was the racist attitude of some PTA operators: they stated that they did not want black people to have permits in the association or ply the busy central city routes, effectively weakening their association’s case against CUTA.

Leasing a permit was never something I was interested in doing. I viewed it as making somebody else rich

The legal victory enabled the CUTA executive to register the association and apply for permits, a formality that did not take long. Thabang secured a second permit for his E20 in this way. Special legalisation allowing for operators who could prove that they had been operating for at least two years without a permit to acquire permits enabled Thabang to secure a third permit. 

CUTA membership now included drivers who had secured licenses as well as a bloc of disaffected of white and coloured operators who had left PTA. Some black members of CUTA insisted that these operators return to PTA. Thabang, who had been promoted to secretary, opposed this demand, even resigning from the executive at one point. Early CUTA meetings were sometime fractious affairs. Xhosa-speaking members would refuse to speak English in meetings, prompting non-Xhosa speakers to walk out. Thabang ended up offering to translate, which then became standard practice in the organization. “TV2 please” became the standard joke when calling for translation.

“We survived in this manner in our own way with our own problems. But this diverse membership helped us. We stood out as an association that was non-racial and was easy to get on with and to talk to.”  

But some of the new members who had left PTA found it difficult to operate; additionally, they felt that the PTA operators were hostile to them. Most of these operators decided to sell their permits. Thabang had the money to buy these operators out and he managed to acquire many of the permits that became available in this way. Over time CUTA and PTA resolved their differences. “We went on operating as two associations on the same route from the same rank, which was never heard of or allowed anywhere else. We operated in harmony. There were never fights on the routes. We were in fact quite a crowd there on the [central railway] station deck. PTA knew that they could not push us out and did not even try. They had other challenges on their hands.”

Of his father, Joe Molefe, Thabang says: "He always did what he told you he would do. He did not take short-cuts because they always cost in the long-run. I learnt that from him. If you do something, do a proper job and do it right the first time.”
PART 5

In 2009 Thabang was called to an informal meeting with city officials. They wanted to apprise the CUTA chairman of Cape Town’s plans to introduce a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the city, which they referred to as an Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system. Cape Town had decided to initiate IRT in an area encompassing the central city area, where CUTA and most of PTA’s operations were located, as well the West Coast area up to Atlantis. The reasons for choosing this area to initiate the system included planning considerations—the central city and the West Coast experienced severe congestion because there was no public transport trunk service (such as a rail system) on that route, as well as the relatively mature taxi industry serving the area that was open to partnership. Rather than negotiating through an umbrella body at metropolitan or provincial scale, city officials opted to deal directly with affected taxi associations

Thabang was told that operators would be well compensated and that they should not resist the plan because it was going to be implemented no matter what. Thabang greeted the news optimistically. It was a new business opportunity as well as a means for him to exit the taxi business. At the time, he was tired of the risks associated with the industry and the infighting involved in running the association. “I was a straight person,” says Thabang. “If you stole something for the association I would be straight about it. But this also creates unhappiness. I thought it was time for me to leave. With IRT coming, however, I knew I had to hang in there because I had no other choice.”

The thing in the industry is that if you know powerful people, you can go and speak to them personally and explain that you are not how people are portraying you, even from inside your own association

To kick-start the IRT process and get buy-in from key taxi industry leaders in the area of the proposed first phase of the IRT project, city officials organised a study tour. The itinerary included visits to Brazil and Columbia, in particular Bogota, which at the time was regarded as the global cutting edge of BRT implementation. An important part of the Bogota model involved the informal para-transit sector being incorporated into running the companies operating the buses. The visit to the Columbian capital included intensive meetings with informal transport operators, including some of the operators that were not involved in its BRT system. Thabang listened and concluded that he did not want to face the latter group’s problems.

A view towards the garage of Thabang Molefe’s home in Panorama - a quiet middle class suburb. Molefe and his wife, young son and 19 year old daughter who is a law student at UWC. They recently moved from Milnerton, a working class neighbourhood on the edge of the city's port

Back in Cape Town there was growing resistance to the IRT in the broader taxi industry. While Thabang was in Bogota, a taxi strike against the proposed IRT system was held in Cape Town. He watched footage of the strike in Bogota. “I knew this is was going to be trouble. However, I was prepared to go all the way because it was my only way out.” He was however also clear about his role in selling IRT to the taxi industry. “I will never try to convince anybody to be part of IRT,” he resolved. “They will have to decide for themselves.”

During his trip Thabang learnt that he, along with the PTA leadership, was being targeted for “selling out” the taxi industry. The attack had its logic: top brass were generally the targets, and Thabang was part of the elite. “Those people want to shoot you,” he was told by a contact. “They want to shoot you dead.” 

A smilling Molefe tries on a traditional Sotho hat. As a Sotho speaker growing up in Gugulethu, then a predominantly Xhosa neighbourhood, he recalls being singled out as a foreigner in the township and being called names

“Everyone knew our lives were in danger,” says Thabang. “The issue was how to get home and be safe there.” He spent a month on his farm and another two weeks in Lesotho. But this was a temporary solution. Thabang made contact with key people in the industry that he knew. He pleaded his case, stating that he had been with them in Lagunya. Thabang learnt that certain CUTA members had been spreading misinformation about his involvement with the IRT deal, in particular stating that his visit to Bogota had been “to make deal to give the route to the IRT”. Thabang explained that no deal had been struck and that he had simply attended the study tour as a nominee of the association, which these CUTA members had agreed to. Thabang managed to arrange a meeting so that he could explain himself, as well as clarify any misunderstandings. 

“The thing in the industry is that if you know powerful people, you can go and speak to them personally and explain that you are not how people are portraying you, even from inside your own association,” says Thabang. “It was hectic at that time. We knew we were goners if some miracle did not happen. Even now I do not know what the miracle was. Maybe it was my meeting. Maybe it was what PTA did that I do not know about. Maybe it was that we kept a very low profile.” 

Shortly after this, Thabang resigned from the executive of CUTA. He nonetheless remained the association’s point person in IRT negotiations. “I became an ordinary member of CUTA,” says Thabang. “I did not want anybody to be able to say I used my power as chair to advantage myself. I said to the members that I intended to be part of the IRT and would try to negotiate the best deal for everybody.” In keeping with the promise he had made after returning from Bogota he additionally told CUTA members, “I will not try to convince anybody to accept an offer. It is up to individual members to decide.”

PART 6

Cape Town’s IRT transition plan required all affected operators to surrender their operating licenses in exchange for a lump sum cash compensation offer, which they could use to purchase shares in one of the companies that the City of Cape Town would contract to operate the MyCiti buses. Although voluntary, city officials indicated that operators who refused to accept the offer would not be able to renew their operating licenses when they expired. The plan involved bundling a number of taxi associations: PTA (216 licenses), CUTA (55), and the smaller Vredehoek Devils Peak Association, together with Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS), a private company that had until then been the sole provider of subsidised commuter bus services in metropolitan Cape Town. The concept required all these parties to establish a single company with shareholding in accordance with their respective shares of the commuter market in the affected area.

This was, of course, very challenging given the competitive nature of the taxi industry, where turf was fought for and defended, as well as the history between the particular associations. CUTA, after all, was a breakaway association from PTA. Golden Arrow had its own issues and eventually, after a legal dispute about the percentage stake it would get of the total service, managed to secure its own vehicle operating company separate from the taxi-association companies and a 12-year contract to run MyCiti services. The associations together established Transpeninsula in 2010, as required by city officials to conclude an interim contract to run a limited initial service during the FIFA World Cup. This was extended after the football event to enable the detailed negotiations about compensation and the 12-year contract to be concluded. Taxis continued to operate in parallel to MyCiti during this period.

The Cape Town taxi rank is nestled between two prominent building sites: the Civic Centre and City Hall. Initially, the Peninsula Taxi Association (PTA) was the recognised taxi association operating in the central city. The emergence of Central Unity Taxi Association (CUTA) eventually led to the two associations sharing this operating space.

The negotiations around the long-term arrangement were complex and eventually took three years to conclude. In 2013, a 12-year vehicle-operating contract was concluded between city officials and Transpeninsula. A “lump sum” cash compensation offer was negotiated for each taxi association. The offer to CUTA members was accepted by all eligible members of the association, with the vast majority also agreeing to invest a major portion of their compensation amount in Ditokelo Investments, which held the 17.7% of the shares in Transpensinsula. In November 2013, operators who had signed agreements began to surrender their vehicles and operating licenses in a phased manner as an extended MyCiti service was rolled out.

The underlying intention of the IRT “deal”, particularly as articulated by the national Minister of Transport, was that operators who were required to surrender their operating licenses should not be left “worse off”. For operators like Thabang, who held a number of operating licenses, the deal represented a unique opportunity to sell their businesses and secure an investment in the new public transport service. The deal was also beneficial for older members reaching the end of their working lives: it offered them a way to exit the industry and to secure the equivalent of a pension.

NUMBER OF TRIPS PER PERSON, BY MAIN MODE AND BY INCOME GROUP

A good transport system is essential to the success of a city. A great public transport system is a leveller in highly unequal cities like Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro or Bogota. Private cars undertake more than half of daily trips, often with just one occupant. The rest of the population get around with public transport, walking, and a small proportion relies on cycling. There is enormous untapped potential to optimise non-motorised transport opportunities and address a number of public health concerns.

Source: 2013 - 2018 Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan, City Of Cape Town

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The issue is less settled in the case of younger operators with a single operating license who have 20-30 years of working life ahead of them. They will need to find some other employment to sustain them beyond the 12 years of the current contract. The implementation of the 2013 agreement, which involved the phased removal of vehicles, has also created problems. Some operators found that they were suddenly earning much higher incomes when the initial round of taxis were removed and they became reluctant to surrender their licenses. These are, however, short-term creases to be ironed out through the process. 

The MyCiti IRT project has many dimensions. It is a R6.5 billion investment in infrastructure, systems and operations in the first phase. However, it is also a major exercise of institution building. The soft processes of building confidence and trust were critical in getting the affected taxi associations on board to create Cape Town’s biggest black economic empowerment project. This took time and effort. The World Cup and interim contracts were very important in growing this confidence amongst CUTA members. As Ditokelo shareholders, they received significant dividends from these contracts even before they were required to invest anything or to surrender their vehicles.

In 2013, a 12-year vehicle-operating contract was concluded between city officials and Transpeninsula

Even more important was the way in which the Ditokelo finances were managed. There were regular meetings where an independent accountant explained financial allocations and tax issues to members. Members received regular financial statements. “I felt it was very important to be very transparent up to the last cent,” says Thabang. “If there was a shred of dishonesty during that period, people would have dropped off and not invested their money in the company. There are always people looking to see fraudulent activities but it never happened.”

Building trust also means taking less than you are entitled to, adds Thabang. “Once the process started, I could have fought to get additional permits like other members through the dormant process or by buying from other members. I did not do so, but rather enabled others to improve their situation. This builds confidence, people can trust you to represent their interests.”

This task of building trust and confidence is ongoing. One of Thabang’s responsibilities now as non-executive chairman of Transpeninsula is to help create a modern business culture founded on transparency and accountability. This is particularly important as Ditokelo has a minority stake in Transpeninsula and can be outvoted on the board.

PART 7

Thabang’s story, like the story of transport in Cape Town, is a work in progress. He started at the bottom of an industry as a driver and advanced to become an important operator and leader in the industry. He did this by incrementally building on the skills learnt on cold mornings in his father’s workshop, and by steadily growing his assets through reinvesting the money he earned in his business. It was this disciplined day-to-day attention to small improvements that put him in a position where he could participate in leading a major reorganisation of public transport and influence its future. 

And so it is with public transport change in Cape Town on a more general level. The real change lies in the slow but consistent process of incremental improvements over time that build on previous effort, that infuse existing assets and capacities with new possibilities, and that connect the different modes (rail, bus, minibus taxi, walking, cycling) in ways that provide a better mobility experience for the people. Large-scale infrastructure investments and the introduction of global innovation can be important in catalysing and inspiring change, but the real system-wide change comes from the slow incremental improvements over time.

The first phase of MyCiti was a massive learning exercise for city officials, as well as for the bus and minibus taxi industry operators, particularly as to what works, and what doesn’t.

The first phase of MyCiti was a massive learning exercise for city officials, as well as for the bus and minibus taxi industry operators, particularly as to what works, and what doesn’t. One key lesson from the process is that there are minibus taxi operators with the capacity to govern and manage high quality bus companies, such as Transpeninsula. Another is that the minibus taxi service and a high-quality bus service such as MyCiti should not be seen as mutually exclusive, and that the future growth of MyCiti should not seek to totally replace minibus taxi services in an area, as was intended in the initial roll-out. Instead, transport authorities should rather harness the complementary strengths of these two models to produce a better quality and financially sustainable system.

There are many operational and regulatory lessons from the MyCiti rollout that can be extended to the minibus taxi industry. The benefits of dedicated lanes on priority routes, vehicle-tracking and fleet-management systems and improved driver training can all be incrementally extended to minibus taxi services to improve safety, compliance and profitability. The subsidised commuter bus services currently operated by GABS will similarly benefit from the IRT innovations and will in due course be integrated with the MyCiti service with unified branding, one timetable and one scheduling system. The Metrorail upgrade programme will see major refurbishment of all elements of the rail system that remains the backbone of public transport in Cape Town.

And so the journeys connect up and the bigger story emerges. Thabang’s journey weaves in and out of the story of public transport in Cape Town. It is the innovators and pioneers who take the brave and bold steps to regenerate the city in new and interesting ways. Thabang is one of those pioneers.

OTHER VOICES

Mobility: Getting hit by a car on the way to school (Khayelitsha)

CREDITS

Editor: Sean O'Toole & Tau Tavengwa

Copy Editor: Janine Stephen

Photography: Sydelle Willow Smith

Film: Periphery Films

Infographics: Blain van Rooyen

Digital Design: Pixel Project