The woman bus driver breaking barriers

The woman bus driver breaking barriers

MASERU – ’Manondlela Nyoni, the country’s only female long-distance bus driver, works in an industry where vulgar language and rogue behaviour are key to survival.
Yet, the 49-year-old still conducts herself at work as if she were employed in a church.

She does not swear at her male competitors when tussling for passengers, a rarity in the rough and tumble world that is Lesotho’s transport industry.
The experience of working with men “could have been worse if I was not a cool person”, she says.
Only two other women in Maseru work in the public transport sector driving sedan taxis.

“They used to refer not me as mosali (woman) when they talked to me just to try and intimidate me. But I never entertained that,” Nyoni says with an air of confidence.
“Instead, I kept being cool until I got used to the situation,” she says.
Life at the taxi rank is so rough and the language so vulgar that Nyoni used to cringe during her first days at work but she journeyed on until she got used to the work environment.

“I think I survived all that because I’m a kind person, I am cool and I don’t like quarrels. That’s actually how I got my nickname, ’Masememe (a soft woman),” adding, “Even if a person shouted at me I was able to keep my cool.”

That doesn’t mean the temptation doesn’t come her way. She says she sometimes loses her cool during the routine fights for passengers that she just wants to spit some venom. “I always try to hold myself back,” she says.
“I am a flexible person, I adapt to every situation because I am patient,” says the long distance driver.

When she is not behind the steering wheel, she sits in the bus and reads the Bible “to give me strength.”
Raising two children single-handedly, it is crucial that she holds on to her job even though it has not been an easy ride.
Born and raised at Ha-Molemane, the rural side of Teya-Teyaneng in Berea, Nyoni says working hard to give her children a better life has always been her goal.

From driving a small taxi known widely as 4+1 taxi, Nyoni is now driving a Sprinter bus from Quthing to Maseru.
Taking thepost through her life journey, Nyoni says her father, who was a mechanic, abandoned their family while she was still very young.
Life was not easy as Nyoni’s mother had to take care of her and seven other siblings from her meagre salary working as a cook at a nearby St Agnes High School.

Nyoni and her siblings did not complete high school because of financial problems.
“My father was very abusive to my mother. We used to struggle as if our father was not working and I ended up not going as far as I wanted with education,” she says.

Living under such circumstances hurt Nyoni as a child, especially when she had to watch her father leave their home to cohabit with another woman.
“That has affected me negatively because I didn’t even reach my goals because of that,” she says.

“My dream was to be a nurse but I couldn’t make it because I ended up not completing school. My mother was a housewife who was waiting for my father to give her money. I dropped out while doing Form D at St Boniface High School in Maputsoe in 1996.”

But being the hard worker and goal getter she is, Nyoni proceeded to obtain a driver’s licence.
Like most Basotho women with little education, Nyoni’s first job hunt was at the garments factory in Maputsoe but she had no luck there.
She then decided to come to Maseru and got a job as a taxi driver plying the route from Upper Thamae to town. At that time, she was the only known female taxi driver around.

That was the beginning of her journey in the demanding, male dominated industry.
Nyoni drove a 15-seater minibus from 1996. In 1997 she started driving a 4 +1 taxi taking passengers from place to place around town.

“As a woman who didn’t get to reach her goal because of financial problems, I told myself that I will work very hard to make sure that my children get the good education that I didn’t have,” she says.
A few years later, she bought her own 4+1 taxi but high running costs resulted in losses and she sold the vehicle.

She was later employed by GMT Construction Company as a TLB driver and occasionally drove the company’s 4×4 vehicle until the contract ended in 2005.

Being a breadwinner of her family, sitting at home was not an option after losing her job. So she went back to the harsh environment of the taxi industry.

She worked there from 2005 and was able to send both her children to study at New Millennium English Medium primary and high school.
Despite that her job forces her to be away from her children for long hours, she has always tried her best to bond with them.
“I would wake up in the dark, bath them and prepare their food. After that I would accompany them to school and only pick them up late afternoons to leave them with other people until I got back from work,” she says.

Away from home, one of her biggest challenges is dealing with the police. It is every public transport driver’s nightmare.
“When they arrest us they keep us in holding cells. That is one of the painful things about it and it makes us loathe the police,” she says.
The first time she spent a night in a police holding cell left her miserable.
“You can imagine getting locked in a dark room alone. I was scared,” she says. “The smell is terrible. The night-soil-bucket was placed at the centre of the room,” she says, raising her voice and frowning to show disgust.

Nyoni says she was later fined M800 at the magistrate’s court.
She remembers the magistrate saying: “I’m not expecting a woman would do such a thing, you’re the one who should set an example to those men.”
She had been caught picking passengers by the roadside on an undesignated spot. Nyoni argues that the survival of a taxi driver in Maseru depends mostly on picking passengers wherever they are irrespective of whether it is a designated bus stop or not.

“Otherwise the driver will go home empty handed,” she says.
She has slept in holding cells for about four times now.
“It is part of taxi driver’s life. It will happen… it has to be expected.”
As long as the job continues providing food on the table, Nyoni will keep doing it.

Her 31-year-old daughter works in one of the pharmacies in Maseru after graduating from Wits University with a pharmacy qualification while her 24-year-old son graduated from Thaba-Tseka Technical Institute last year and Nyoni paid all the tuition fees for him.

“What I have taught my children is to be independent. I also became independent even from the hard situation I was in,” she says.
“Working here as a taxi driver has made my dream to give my children education come true,” she says.

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki

 

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