NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on June 3, 2014.
Rushed commuters greet one another in passing, buy combo’s of coffee and magwinya (fat cakes), while others get their daily paper and those with time wait for grilled giblets on a sosati stick. All done in just under five minutes before lining up to catch a bus or taxi, or walk over to the hospital.
This is the Baragwanath taxi rank – 1.4km-long and 50-metres wide – one of the biggest and busiest in Gauteng. At least 1 000 taxis, managed by 12 associations, 20 bus bays and 500 street traders serve the thousands of feet that make their way through the rank every day.
Passing the plethora of stalls you will find your way to a makeshift casino in the form of young men and women playing cards and ma dice – all hoping to win some money.
Just behind them is braai master Musa Bhengu, who has been working at the rank for 15 years. Bhengu braais a variety of meats. “I sell everything from skop (sheep’s head), to chicken feet, mogodu (sheep’s intestines) and pap,” he said.
As one of the only traders at the rank braaing meat, Bhengu said his business grows every year. Along with this, Bhengu’s stall is not directly on the taxi rank property so he does not pay rent, which makes his business all the more profitable.
He also does not have to worry about crime. “They target the big stores like Cambridge, not me,” he said. A short walk across a street to the rank leads to traders who reside on rank property and have to pay rent.
Second-hand clothes seller Fatima Nyambo said she pays R500 rent a month for her stall. She said it was worth it because “you get safe storage space and there’s security in here”. The single mother of an eight-year-old in Mozambique set up her stall to be her own boss and “provide for my son”, she said.
The orderly stalls inside the rank provide hot food, clothes, phone repairs and some quick hairstyles for customers.
A few holding bays away, Sipho Sobantu is busy repairing a “talking shoe”. He has been repairing and making shoes at the rank for 10 years. Sobantu uses cardboard and leather cut-offs and uses his creativity to make brand new sandals – costing R50.
He pays R100 rent a month for the stall he occupies.
He lamented the stiff competition at the rank: “Lots of unemployed people have come here to open businesses. It’s very competitive now and a lot of people sell the same things.”
Just outside, occupying a space in between some of the bays, stands a blue and white gazebo with promoters selling cheap medical care. “Hello doctor” is a cellular subscription service. “People just have to SMS their symptoms and a doctor will reply with a diagnosis or a prescription of medicine to buy. If people can’t afford that, he can even help you make something from ingredients you have at home. All for R2.70,” said Pamela Ntsume. She said the service will help people who can’t afford traditional healthcare.
Meeting in the cramped storeroom of her tavern at the rank, “Magogo” said her customers hated the noise from outside. “Older people come here to have a quiet drink. We don’t even have music.” Magogo did not want her photo taken or name published because people have already targeted her family business.
As she said this she pointed to a safe with a hole in the middle. “They took so much money. They knew there was money here over the Easter weekend,” she said. Crime has followed the family over the years, she said. Magogo also complained about the competition in the area. “In the past it used to be so busy here people could barely get in. Now people don’t have money and permits are handed out so freely there are taverns on every street and corner.”