Taking a bus has been one of the oldest ways to commute in Windhoek and those who have been the agents of moving the nation have been equated to the Gods. Johannes Hashipala has been in the bus driver’s seat since 1988.
“This work is not for the cowards. Many have come and left because they could not make it with the early mornings,” states the 58-year old municipal bus driver. Hashipala says this as he collects trip fares from his clients at a bus stop, driving Mercedes Benz 64-seater of the 70s that is still up and running for the City of Windhoek business.
For the pensioner-in-waiting, his day starts at 04h00 on a Monday to Saturday basis. Exactly by 04h40, he should be in his seat headed to the first bus stop after some bus inspection. “What is important is to get to your first bus stop on time and the rest will automatically fall in place.”
Hashipala shares some of his memories from the year he had transported people exactly on the day of independence. While books and records have it that thousands flocked to the stadium for the celebrations, little do they celebrate those who made sure the stadium was packed to the fences and people from all locations were fully represented. “We had around 60 to 70 busses transport people that day and it was a real celebration. Thousands waited at the bus terminals. The busses were overloaded as no one opted to stay behind and wait for the next bus,” narrates the veteran driver.
Work on that day started at 04h00 and the driving flow never ended besides activities already happening at the stadium. “There was simply no time to rest. The flow of people was such that whenever you went to drop people back home, others would jump on the bus still to be taken to the stadium. In fact, those who did not have luck getting the bus walked to and from the stadium that day.”
Because of the non-stop flow of people that day, Johannes recalls that had it not been for their boss who had to stop them at 01h00, business might have carried on until the next day. However, “it was a great feeling driving brothers and sisters to the independence celebrations.”
In comparison to following independence celebration, Hashipala noticed a slight drop in attendance, citing that interests have dropped and many families now have cars and thus no longer use busses.
Of his colleagues with whom he started with in 1988, Hashipala says they are now only two still working. Others have been fired, retired or simply quit the demanding profession as they just could not keep up with the expectations.
Hashipala started off working with N$650 as his starting salary, a luxury in his days. “We could survive with this salary. The other good thing was that we used to get a raise every year by June.” Hashipala says this in comparison to today’s system that barely has room for growth.
He has mastered Windhoek like the back of his hand and needs no map to get people to their destination. “There is no place that I don’t know in Windhoek unless there are no roads.”
Making around five trips in a day, Hashipala transports about 400 heads daily to and from work. One can only imagine this number multiplied by the number of moving busses in the city. “We are very important in the running of the city. Make no mistake and stop busses from operating and you will hear it from the people.”
Busses are at all times packed with mostly workers and children who live distances away from work or school. In comparison to the taxi, busses cost N$6 to any destination. Working with Windhoek’s masses every day, Hashipala has learned to be a people’s person and most importantly, people look up to him. “The people know you so one has to behave at their best even when they are not on duty.”
Unlike other jobs, Hashipala points out that being a municipal bus driver is not for the
soft-hearted and impatient persons. Besides waking up very early, they work with people who can love and hate at the same time. “Some clients will insult you and your whole family and if you are a softy, you will be stressed every day.”
He also adds that driving can be hectic at times, making reference to the reckless road users. “You have to be cautious when driving all the times because you are carrying many lives. On top of that, there are children playing on the streets and taxis that just jump into the road at any time.”
But now and then, Hashipala appreciates the fact that his job accords one the opportunity to create relationships with the people. “I simply love my job. I love driving and the endless conversations with my customers,” said Hashipala, who only has his code 12 drivers’ license as his highest qualification.