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The Minibus-Taxi Industry in South Africa  

Timothy Gibbs and Ofentse Mokwena

South Africa’s barely regulated, murderously competitive, contemporary minibus-taxi industry dates to the turn of the 1980s. It is synonymous with the sixteen-seat (latterly twenty-two- and thirty-two-seat) minibuses, which forced their way onto bus routes and soon displaced government-subsidized public transport services. Nonetheless, the minibus-taxi industry traces its roots to the Black-owned informal transportation sector that first developed on the fringes of South Africa’s segregated cities in the early decades of the 20th century. Heroic stories of these pioneering guerrilla entrepreneurs—who successfully ran unlicensed “pirate” transport operations, while dodging the heavy hand of state regulation and White racism—remain potent memories in parts of South Africa. Academics might pay more attention to the tangled relationship between patterns of urban change, racial segregation, political economy, and public-transport provision. In one sense, South Africa’s minibus-taxi sector shares striking parallels to Kenya’s matatus and Tanzania’s daladalas. At the same time, the distinctive history of South Africa’s minibus-taxi sector is perhaps best understood when placed into the longue durée of urban segregation and transport apartheid, which shares many similarities with the more tightly planned, racially segregated cities of the Americas.