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Female taxi drivers speak out

…“venturing into the male-dominated industry is not for the faint-hearted”…

…“we suffer serious abuse from male passengers”…

…“some people refuse to board our taxis just because we are women”… 

Hopolang Mokhopi | Seithati Mphatsoane

AT first glance, Thato Koloi (not her real name), looks like any other young Mosotho woman in her twenties.

She is elegantly decked out in stylish Nike sneakers, a designer white tee-shirt, blue denim jacket and matching tight-fitting denim pants known by fashionistas as ‘skinny jeans’. Her face is well-made up and her nails manicured too.

But as the saying goes, appearances may be deceiving. Ms Koloi’s chic attire is the only thing typical about her.

As the Lesotho Times crew found out during a visit to the Pitso Ground taxi rank in Maseru, she is no ordinary young woman. She and three other women, recently interviewed by this publication, have dared to venture into the male-dominated taxi industry.

Not only is Ms Koloi a taxi owner, she drives her own taxi as well.

Given the rarity of female taxi operators in Lesotho, the four women could be considered trailblazers for their gender.

But they would be the first to admit that it has not been the proverbial stroll in the park.

“I’ve been in this industry since 2020 and I’d be the first to say it’s not a bed of roses more so for a woman,” Ms Koloi says.

“Some male passengers mistake me for a tout whose only job is to load the taxi. They expect to see a man coming over to drive them when the vehicle is full. The incredulous looks on their faces can best be imagined than told for lack of the best words to express them.

“Some men utter insults while others are quick to remind me that I should be in the kitchen as a woman. Some question whether the journey will be safe with me behind the wheel. I’ve even had an extreme case where one passenger demanded that I stop the vehicle to let him get off as he didn’t feel safe being driven by a woman,” Ms Koloi says.

Despite the abuse, she has soldiered on because she says while not giving the best returns, the taxi industry enables her to pay the bills.

She is a single parent who has to take care of two children in primary and secondary schools.

“I have a Diploma in Human Resources from Lerotholi Polytechnic. But jobs have been hard to come by. I used my savings to buy a Honda Fit to provide taxi services. It is a cut-throat industry and the money is not always good for various reasons. For much of the past two years, there were Covid-19 restrictions limiting the number of passengers we could carry per trip.

“Besides that, there are too many taxis competing for passengers. Due to the economic challenges, we have lost some of our customers who are now walking long distances to get to their destinations. However, the little that I make is better than nothing at all. It keeps my children in school and ensures they have food and books too,” Ms Koloi says. She is however, reluctant to reveal how much she takes home per day.

Another female taxi driver, Lintle Phoofolo*, shares Ms Koloi’s sentiments.

Unlike the latter, Ms Phoofolo does not own the taxi she drives. Nor does she hold any tertiary qualifications.

“This job (driving a taxi) was not the kind of career I had ever imagined myself doing. Jobs are very scarce in this country and in the end you take whatever you can find.

“I’m married and I have a husband who works menial jobs. I had to find something to augment his wages. While he is supportive of my job, the same cannot be said of the male passengers who often pass snide remarks about female drivers. One has to grow a thick skin and soldier on lest the family starves,” Ms Phoofolo says.

Close by another female driver, Lerato Sello* sits in her Toyota Salon vehicle, waiting for it to fill up with passengers.

Like the others, she complains about the vile sexist remarks often thrown her way by male passengers.

“It’s tough in the industry. It’s not only male passengers calling us all sorts of names. Some of our male counterparts have seemingly not accepted us as their colleagues in the industry. They never miss an opportunity to remind us that this business is best left to them and we should be cooking and entertaining our husbands at home.

“I’ve even been given a nickname by our male colleagues. They call me ‘Sechacha’ (loosely translated to mean a whore),” Ms Sello says.

Her sentiments are shared by another female driver and taxi owner, Puseletso Mohapi*.

Ms Mohapi does not always drive her Honda Fit vehicle. She has employed several male drivers who have often proved unreliable.

“Oftentimes, they (drivers) take the vehicle when it has been filled with petrol only to return when it’s empty but without the money to show for it. Sometimes they blame the police for demanding bribes, sometimes they attribute their failure to come with any money to slow business. It’s a difficult industry more so if you’re a woman,” she says.

In addition to the rampant sexism, the women say they have to contend with the usual challenges afflicting the taxi industry. Like their male counterparts, they believe the M12 fare is a little return for their investments given the high costs of fuel and spare parts.

Despite the challenges, the women are soldiering on, defying the stereotypes about gender roles in the process.

*The names of the women have been changed at their request. They say this will protect them from possible victimisation for sharing their stories.