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March 24, 2010 2:24 AM   Subscribe

If you need to hail a taxi-bus in Johannesburg, you'll need to know some complex hand signals [PDF]. Taxi hand signs are almost their own language, and artist Susan Woolf has adapted them into an art project, then a booklet, and finally postage stamps.

Her Taxi Hand Signs booklet is also available in a version for the blind. TEDx Johannesburg (talk).
posted by Shepherd (11 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is brilliant. If she approached me with this idea, I'd letter do it, post-haste.

(I really do think it's brilliant)
posted by twirlypen at 2:48 AM on March 24, 2010

It's a lot easier in Cape Town. The gaartjie (little guard - dude who sits in the back and takes fares, squeezes in an extra passenger etc etc) usually leans out the window and screams where they're going ("WYYYYYYYNBERG!" for the Southern Suburbs, "SEEEAAA POINT!" for the Atlantic Seaboard for instance).
posted by PenDevil at 3:38 AM on March 24, 2010

There are some crazy synchronized dance routines just waiting to be developed from this, I imagine.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 AM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

That is absoulutely facinating! One of the counties here in the Atlanta Metro is discontinuing bus service and now I think that something similar could be tried in Clayton county. Think of the private individuals who could make a bit of dough on the side.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on March 24, 2010

From the PDF:

"Passengers in the front seat help the driver count fares and give change. Passengers sitting next to the sliding passenger door must open and close the door for passengers boarding or alighting the taxi".

Eventually they'll add "The first passenger to board the taxi must drive it.".
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had to learn a similar (though much less involved) set of hand signs for taxis and buses when I was in the Peace Corps. There was also a whole set of commands you gave the driver which indicated where you wanted to stop -- at a regular stop, in between regular stops, at a particular point, etc. Getting that wrong meant the embarrassment of everyone staring at you while you fumbled for a way to say "no, please drive on a few hundred meters, thanks."
posted by Forktine at 6:16 AM on March 24, 2010

Doesn't matter to me. They never stop for prawns anyway.
posted by rusty at 7:27 AM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I picked up the passengers-handle-money thing too, kiltedtaco. It amazes me that that works. You'd think there'd be a lot of problems with accusations of theft, etc.
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on March 24, 2010

Hmm... what I visualize is some thug collecting money and claiming I shorted him, when he really pocketed the money.
posted by crapmatic at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2010

This is why when I was in Johannesburg I just took taxis. Of course, my taxi driver also didn't have enough gas to get to the airport so I missed my plane and had to pay a $400 surcharge.
posted by aetg at 5:34 PM on March 24, 2010

You'd think there'd be a lot of problems with accusations of theft, etc.

Surprisingly, no.

Almost every country in Africa has their versions of the taxi-minibus. Its typically an old, used Japanese mass-manufactured mini-van that has had all of the interior seating, upholstery, and other space-taking nonsense completely ripped out, and then small metal-frame benches are welded in, adding one or sometimes two extra rows from the original 2 rows of plush seating that used to be there. So now, free of encumbrances like seat-belts or cushioning, you can squeeze (literally) 18 people into a van originally built for 8.

They're called something different everywhere you go. Mozambique has a different name than SA, East African countries call them "matatus," West Africa also varies by country (they're called "tro-tros" in Ghana for example).

Anyway, I've written on AskMe before a bit about how the whole system typically works (and the nuances are different by country), but they are - like the communities they serve - remarkably high-functioning when it comes to the activity of "self-policing."

Take SoWeTo, in Johannesburg for example. As the township where the blacks were essentially banished during the plagues, it remains almost exclusively 100% black in constituency. There are very few, if any, police in most parts of SoWeTo, yet it is one of the safest communities even for whites to visit. That's because the entire community will police you if you commit a crime - not just the police. Typically crime is much worse in other parts of Johannesburg - the criminals in SoWeTo conduct their activities in communities where they don't live, where there is not a community to police them. That's also where the cops operate, ineffectively.

It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that drivers would outsource this function to passengers and that they would handle it with integrity. They are taking that mini-bus from the neighborhood they live in - its the same bus they'll need to take tomorrow and the next day. The driver knows his passengers and probably most are regulars. It makes sense that everyone would play ball.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:54 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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