Whether I like it or not, my personal space is always compromised when I use public transport. Even though I’ve been reliant on it all of my life, I hate it. Many of my public transport experiences are characterised by harassment. A while ago I had to endure a man touching me inappropriately in a taxi and no-one in the taxi seemed to be aghast. I was ignored, or perhaps no-one seemed to notice.
Apart from physically being in a taxi, I also have to walk through a taxi rank to find a taxi to any given destination or I have to hail it from the side of the road. After the Noord Taxi rank incident, we all know that taxi ranks are not safe places for women, especially if one chooses to wear a short skirt. I have often been amazed at how blind taxi commuters are to the level of harassment that happens at the taxi rank and often inside a taxi. Harassment is part of the culture of public life in South Africa and I would say, it’s more pronounced when a woman is in a sea of nameless faces such as taxi drivers, hawkers, tsotsis and “gaatjies”(a word used in Cape Town for the young men who collect money in taxis).
Woe to the woman who sits in the front seat of a taxi and has to contend with the taxi driver deliberately rub his hand up her thigh because her legs are in front of the gear handle(thank the pope for the new taxis because the gear handle is positioned closer to the driver rather then the passenger’s legs!). Woe to the women who has to ask around for help at a taxi rank because she also has to contend with the cat calling, the hissing and even touching from the “gaatjies” and the taxi drivers.
Granted, not all taxi drivers are baying for women’s blood or ogling women as sex on legs throughout their day. However we can’t run away from the yet another negative stereotype for the black man, the taxi driver (including Coloured men). Taxi drivers are rarely seen as people’s fathers but rather men who also take advantage of school girls making them “taxi queens” (young girls who exchange sex for free taxi rides). Taxi ranks and the panic with black men and how they perform their masculinity has serious implications for women’s experience in public places and the kind of role models some young men have.