I really enjoy the first few weeks of living in a new country. I look for novelty, difference, quirkiness. After a month or so, odd things become accepted, mundane and attract my attention less.

Each morning at 7am, two Landcruisers collect the expatriate health workers from the team houses and transport them to the clinics at Matsapha and Mankayane. It takes about half an hour to get to the clinic where I work, more if the traffic is dense. I am fascinated by the “kombis”. This is a generic term for mini-bus, no longer VolksWagens but more likely to be modified Toyotas. They are usually packed with commuters at rush hour. Most of them have been named by their owners.

“Secrecy” seems a strange name for a kombi. “Why should it be a secret?” I asked. “Surely it should be publicised rather than clandestine? Perhaps it is for passengers who wish to remain secret?”

“No,” replied the driver. “The secret is where the owner got the money to buy the kombi in the first place.”

Other names which struck me as funny:


“Why Not”

“Tit for Tat”

“Earn a Living”

The driver pointed out a kombi called “Flying Coyote”. He asked, “What is a flying coyote, doctor?” I told him that a coyote was like a wild dog and he said, “Aah, I understand. Dogs run so quickly that they fly. It is a good name for a kombi.”

“But you have to be careful when naming your kombi. A few years ago, there was a kombi called “Accident” and it got washed away by a flooded river,” he said.

I am collecting my observations to share with you over the coming months.

PS My internet connection is so slow that I am having trouble uploading photographs. I hope to fix this by getting up at 5:30am when fewer households are online, and the connection won’t drop out.

2 Replies to “Kombis”

    1. They are certainly in better nick than the matatus in Nairobi in 2010. They are driven perilously and MSF expats are not allowed to use them.
      In Ethiopia, Peace Corps volunteers are told which seats are safest (statistically, your best chance of survival is in the middle seats opposite the sliding door).
      But the photos were many to illustrate the names. The kombi with criminal in the front had “to the magistrate court” on the side. Exodus 18:10 says “our god is better than yours” (not the King James version).
      In Capetown I saw a kombi with the legends “Tell your girlfriend I said thanks”, “No fat girls in front seat” and “I learned to drive on a PlayStation”.
      Best of all was a matatu/bush taxi in Ghana which bore the legend, “The Lord’s my shepherd but I dont know why.”

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