Accidental Tourist

Riding the Rea Vaya is an eye-opening way to experience the real Joburg

Mila de Villiers celebrates the weirdos, frustrations and good times on Johannesburg’s public transport system

12 August 2018 - 00:00 By Mila de Villiers

University students furiously highlighting key words in abstracts of journal articles. Cheerful women clad in Pick n Pay uniforms.
Elderly men kitted out with kieries and tweed caps. Perspiring Parktown boys shifting their weight between schoolbags and hockey equipment.
Millennials in #ActiveWear, scrolling through Instagram. A schoolgirl gently stroking the head of a sleeping sibling.
It’s a proper mengelmoes of Joburgers, who share one thing in common: their dependence on the bus service allotted its own lane; the bus service whose name translates to “we are going” — the bus service that didn’t run for a month. Here’s looking at you, Rea Vaya …
The Big Bus Strike of April 2018 was a rough one. As a 26-year-old who is yet to master the art of driving, I have been reliant on Rea Vaya since April 2017, when the Sunday Times moved to Parktown — one frantic crossing of Empire Road away from the eponymous station.
Before that, it was Uber, which has its disadvantages: a) It’s lank pricey, b) traffic is lank woes, and c) if you’re lank moeg after a day ’s work, your banter game is the opposite of sharp-sharp.
Maths was never my forte, but when comparing the R60-R80 it would cost me to Uber to work, as opposed to the R8.50 my trip amounts to with Rea Vaya, well …
The promise of buses leaving at five to 10-minute intervals is erratic, at best. Kudos to commuters who have the confidence to run from the entry gates and, in-between bouts of laughter and frantic waves, yell for the driver to wait. And good luck with getting a seat if you board after 5pm.Losing your balance and falling in someone’s lap becomes de rigueur. Klapping someone with your handbag is inevitable. Attempting to hold on to the handrail with one hand, your free hand tugging at the micro-mini which you now regret wearing sans stockings is a weekly endurance.
But hey, as a fellow passenger once remarked to me, “If you faint, at least you won’t fall.”
An incident to which I’ll definitely dedicate a chapter when I eventually write my Chronicles of a Capetonian in Self-Imposed Exile in Johannesburg took place at Parktown Station recently.Approaching the entry gates, I was met by a deluge of travellers, running not to, but away from the buses, yelling incoherently. My first thought? “Cool, maybe, like, a snake escaped, or something.”
What followed was a resounding chant of“Fire! Fire! Fire!” No alarm bells were sounding, I couldn’t see or smell any smoke, and none of the ticket operators or cleaners was instructing us to “Please evacuate the premises,” or whatever.
No. Turns out the cause of everyone’s distress was a young woman, convulsing on the floor, and some were calling for her to be set alight. “She’s possessed,” a wide-eyed woman told me. Er ...
After someone emptied a bottle of water over the poor woman, she revived, exiting the station trembling and drenched. This left me with a feeling of discomfort, questioning the mores of some of my fellow commuters.
Pseudo-exorcisms, packed buses, and the one deeply humiliating time I got stuck in the automatic doors aside, taking the Rea Vaya has given me a different perspective on Johannesburg and her inhabitants. It creates a rare space of inclusivity; of welcome homogeneity; of a shared reality.
To which I can only say: “Let’s Go.”
• Do you have a funny or quirky story about your travels? Send 600 words to travelmag@sundaytimes.co.za and include a recent photograph of yourself for publication with the column.

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