The Taxi Philosopher (Thabang Tlaka)

There is something intriguing about taxis in South Africa. For start it is so much part of daily life, those ever present white or blue mini busses that have always room for one more passenger. Grandparents, children, men and women, TVs, groceries, chickens, anything goes in this well organised network of public transport. At some moments it looks like all lanes in the city are packed with the familiar moving advertisement vehicles. For others road users taxis can be a training in public cursing as drivers stop and go without any warning. Only when you have been in there you understand that a sudden command as “next robot” or “sharp left” from the back may cause the driver to take these unexpected manoeuvres. Another part of the population would rather never step inside a taxi and prefers the safe comfort of their own bakkie or 4×4.

In Taxi Philosopher Thabang Tlaka reflects about life in South Africa from the inside of a taxi, eavesdropping on conversations, invited to confessions, exploring motives and unmasking lies as lives are opened or travellers remain strangers each other. Practicing as a psychologist he tries to understand the human spirit, picturing moments that destroy and heal and demonstrating where freedom lies hidden. The original journal entries are reflections on what happens in the taxi or the government clinic were the author is working. This interaction between contemporary questions, psychological theories and matters of faith makes a soul searching reading that is not afraid to challenge the powers that be and wonders what life inside and outside the taxi could be like given that people would find healing in truth and justice and hope.

The reflections on a crowded taxi reveal more about a nation that is getting on its feet, celebrating 21 years of democracy. Dark powers that still drag people down, but also a deep longing for freedom.

In its form very personal journal entries, imagined conversations and letters hauled into the future, overheard conversations, bits of poetry, quotes from Scripture show a train of thought process of a young bright mind who chooses to do something different with his life and provokes to life with understanding and hope in the South Africa that is now. That life is seen through the lens of a professional government employee and professing Christian and does not eschew the horrendous and horrific stories that make up the reality of fellow taxi passengers. Tlaka never falls in pure sensationalism when bringing forth the mesmerizing stories but passionately looks for signs of hope and healing. Where journaling becomes a way to heal the healer more of that is in store for the reader who finds himself at the same intersection wondering how to find their way home in the mess of all this.

A most surprising read.

Thabang Tlaka, The Taxi Philosopher (Pretoria: BK Publishing, 2014)