BOOK REVIEW | The Bus People

Publisher, Zimkhitha Zilo and author, Chumile Salie during the recent launch at Bertha House in Mowbray. All photos by Mzi Velapi

The book explores different themes of working class life in the stories of the passengers on a bus in Khayelitsha.

A collection of short stories about township residents of Khayelitsha and Kariega (formerly Uitenhage), The Bus People is selling like amagwinya (fat cakes) says its author, Chumile Sali. At the recent launch of the book, he described himself as a social justice activist, a preacher at Ethiopian Episcopal Church (iBandla lamaTopiya) and a former leader of the South African Student Congress and Youth League at the University of the Western Cape.

The Bus People are the black working class people who use Golden Arrow, the domestic workers who wake up at 04h00 to catch a 05h00 bus to town so that they can feed their families; it is the students who take the bus to travel to UCT, CPUT, College of Cape Town, it is the jobseekers who use the bus and people that used to travel by Metrorail before it collapsed because of corruption. The book is trying to tell their stories, their lived experiences. Inasmuch as they are all in the bus, they have different experiences. There is a lack of media space for those kind of stories,” said Sali when quizzed about the title by the moderator, Phumeza Mlungwana.

The book is published by Uhlanga Books which has published 22 books since 2020. “I was worried about the title in the beginning and I kept asking him if he is married to the title. But when I went into the book I understood why he wanted to keep the title. He kept on saying that it is about the people,” said Uhlanga Books owner and publisher, Zimkhita Zilo. “Uhlanga Books was inspired by the Nigerian novelist and poet, Achinua Achebe, who wrote, ‘Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter’. I want people to tell their stories. Stories that will tell timeless stories,” said Zilo.

The Review

The short stories, that are linked to the bus of the title, cover issues like rape, murder, violence, gender-based violence, negative masculinity, lack of access to basic services, alcohol abuse and other social ills that pervade black working class communities. Interwoven with political commentary by the writer, the stories are told in simple language and are told from the perspective of the writer.

One of the stories the writer tells is of the brutal rape and murder of Sinoxolo Mafevuka that Elitsha reported on. In March 2016, Sinoxolo Mafevuka was raped and murdered and her body was dumped in a communal toilet in Blowey informal settlement. Two cousins were arrested two weeks after Mafevuka’s body was found naked and bent out of shape with her head stuck between the cistern and the toilet seat and her lower body in a upright position with her legs hugging the toilet seat. Despite their arrest, Xolisa Mafilika and Athabile Mafilika were freed after the Western Cape High Court in 2017 found them not guilty of rape and murder, according to Cape Times, because their fingerprints and DNA were not found on Mafevuka’s body or clothes.

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“As an activist, I was part of the stories that I wrote about. When the Sinoxolo was killed, another woman in the rich suburb of Cape Town was also killed. It took the police a few days to arrest the culprits but we had to protest and ask questions as the Social Justice Coalition for the police to investigate [Sinoxolo’s] murder. It was after two weeks that the police started with investigation,” he said.

“Justice and violence is not just about the court cases that we see, but also about lack of access to water and sanitation … If Cirhakazi had access to a toilet inside her house, chances are that she would still be alive,” said the UWC law graduate and former Kwaito artist. The language that he uses in the book is deliberately common. “I am a second language English speaker and I did not try to write in a language that was going to confuse The Bus People by writing like I am a first language speaker. I didn’t want to go consult the dictionary, I wrote the way I speak. The big words that are used in the book are deliberate as well,” he said.

Violence directed at bus drivers and Golden Arrow

One of the themes that the book explores is the commonly brutal violence that gets directed at bus drivers. The first chapter is about the death of a community leader who was also a bus driver and was killed by a hitman linked to the taxi industry.

“Bus drivers get killed and with the book, I wanted to highlight that there is no factory that produces bus drivers. Bus drivers are uncles and fathers. I wanted to give a human face to the drivers. When there are protests, the first thing that people do is to burn a Golden Arrow bus. When the taxis are on strike, they burn buses. The effectiveness of the protest is measured by burning a bus. We need to have a dialogue about the way we protest,” said Sali.

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Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, was the keynote speaker at the launch of The Bus People. Her speech revolved around the concept of Ubuntu.

Present at the launch was Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, the spokesperson of Golden Arrow Bus Services who used the opportunity to market the company and distribute branded calendars and pocket diaries. “We need to take the conversations back to the community about how to change the perception about Golden Arrow being this company with all the money. How do we create a sense of ownership of the buses, a sense of care, love and regard for fellow men,” said Dyke-Beyer.

In an interview with Elitsha, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, described Golden Arrow as a “brutal employer” and that the company has little regard for “collective bargaining agreements”. “They recently refused to implement increases we negotiated in the bus passenger sector. We also exposed them for failing to keep the drivers safe during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when social distancing was mandatory. Golden Arrow used to overload the busses and risk the health of the workers,” Hlubi-Majola said.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, when the drivers went on strike over inadequate personal protective equipment, the bus company dismissed two shop-stewards for speaking to the media. According to the former NUMSA regional secretary who represented the workers at the time,Vuyo Lufele, the company’s policy does not allow workers the right to speak to the media. Golden Arrow Bus Company is one of the subsidiaries of Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) which was started by workers’ money held by the South African Clothing and Textile Workers (Sactwu). One of Golden Arrow’s sister companies is E-Media Holdings (ETV).

“One of the challenges that we face is hostile management that refuses to treat workers like full human beings,” said the Numsa spokesperson.

The book is available on Amazon or order the book via email thebuspeopleauthor@gmail.com or call 073 813 1728. It costs R220.

Golden Arrow Bus Services were approached for comment and had not responded by the time of publication. Any reply will update this article.

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