Catching a Taxi in the major metro's of  JHB or Pretoria/Tshwane (affectionately known as P-Town) is serious business. This is especially true if you are a 'white cat'. This guide is written with my paler friends in mind who perhaps have never caught a taxi and would like to know how to go about doing it. I have distilled all my knowledge into a (hopefully) helpful, simple-yet-nuanced approach to the art of taxi catching.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty let me give you two ground rules which apply almost universally to problem solving in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  1. There is always a way. Never, ever say it can't be done. It can. Africa is not for wussies, perseverance is the key. My western friends are very quick to give up on their quest if they do not receive exactly what they are looking for on their first attempt. Wrong. You will fail and the beauty and adventure of Africa will be lost on you.
  2. Knowledge is on the ground. If you are looking for a centralised information hub whereby you will receive all the info you need in a convenient and 'professional' manner, you will fail! Information is on the ground, known by all recorded by none. There is nothing impersonal about gaining the info you need. If you want it, you are going to have to speak to someone, who will send you to someone, who will call someone who knows someone, who lives with someone who will help you. This requires the same virtue of perseverance as spoken of in rule 1 and an additional equally important virtue of...patience. Africa is patient and so you must be patient with Her.
Equipped with two ground rules that will serve you well in almost all circumstances let us turn to art of catching a taxi.

  1. Go to the nearest main road from your departure point. 
  2. Find someone walking on the street or someone who looks like they about to catch a taxi.
  3. Tell them where you are going and ask if they know how you can get there by taxi.
  4. Ask them where you must stand in order to catch.
  5. Ask them what the hand signal is to catch the taxi.
  6. Practice the signal once or twice and perhaps even do a 'mock stop' on a few passing cars.
  7. Thank the person who gave you this info.
  8. While you are walking to the stop, apply the principle of 'double confirmation'. Ask at least two other people if what person A told you is true.
  9. If you find any deviation in directions you now have a more difficult task ahead .Establish whether the directions were indeed false or just one of the many ways you could achieve the same end.
  10. Double confirmation is your key to establish this fact.
  11. Once you have established the point of departure prepare to 'flash the sign'. If there is someone else waiting with you mention to them where you are going or perhaps even 'flash the sign' @ them. See if they nod in approval or point to somewhere else. If they point somewhere else refer back to the law of 'double confirmation'
  12. If all is well and you see a taxi approaching 'flash the sign'. If the taxi drives past you un-phased there are a few possible reasons. It was full. It was a delivery vehicle cleverly disguised as a taxi. It was an after school pick-up minibus or the taxi is not going to your destination.
  13. When a taxi does eventually stop, as you are getting in tell the driver where you are hoping to go. Again if he nods approvingly (or even growls approvingly) find yourself a seat. If however he points somewhere else while shaking his head refer back to 'double confirmation'.
  14. Once settled into your seat ask the person next to you how much the fare is. Don't take R200 or R100 note into a taxi. The driver will get pissed. Use small notes, or coins to pay.
  15. Make polite conversation with the person next to you. Something safe like 'its really hot/cold etc' or 'you worked hard today?'. After a few pleasantries tell your new found friend where you are hoping to go to. This is important. Your friend acts as a translator for the driver who might not give the info you need in English. If there is no one around you to help with translation the general rule is if you ever hear your destination spoken by the driver just put your hand up.
  16. When you reach the point where you need to get off you shout out 'Sho't left'. This will alert the driver to the fact that you would like to get off at the next street. Don't be shy. Make sure the driver heard it cause you will regret your whisper when he drops you off down the road and you have to walk back.
  17. If possible try to get off with others, especially older women. They are always kinder and more than willing to help you find whatever you need. In fact this is a general rule to follow. Find an older women if you need info or help.I have yet to meet an older women who is a tsotsi.
  18. If you need to catch another taxi refer back to step 2. IF you are at your destination enjoy the fact that you are probably 15 minutes early as you did not have to stop at robots, drove in the emergency lane and traveled just below the speed of sound.
Good luck and Godspeed.

P.S These rules do not apply in Cape Town as they have there own system, however ground rule 1 and 2 are unchanged.