Tshepo Ralephata has been plying the roads to ferry essential services workers during the Level 5 lockdown in South Africa.
Modern heroes don’t wear capes; they either only don blue scrubs or show the willingness to offer a public service in the time of crisis.
In the time of Covid-19, today’s heroes are the men and women next door, and those on the streets, such as taxi owner, Tshepo Ralephata, who has been plying the roads to ferry essential services workers since the stringent days of the Level 5 lockdown in South Africa.
Ralephata has been working in the taxi industry for over 10 years now, but has never worked under “such life-threatening circumstances” as he is now, he observes. But he has to do so also to look after his family.
“I don’t think about being infected with the virus when I’m on the road because I have to make money, I need to pay rent, the kids have to eat any my partner is unemployed making me the only bread-winner, so I don’t have a choice, I have to work,” says Ralephata.
As a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist looking for great street images, I joined Ralephata in his taxi to document a day in his life in the time of lockdown. His blue Toyota Hiace minibus taxi is his mobile office and the permit to drive during the lockdown sees him working every two days; which has admittedly affected his daily earnings, which has come down from R1,400 to R650.
“We are only allowed to work from 5AM to 10AM and from 4PM to 8PM, the breaks are also an inconvenience. I can also only load 10 passengers at a time, while on the other hand, I buy my own sanitizers to make sure passengers maintain hygiene.”
Indeed, that is what Ralephata did after picking me up at a busstop. He leaned over with a disinfecting sanitizer and sprayed it on to my hands before I entered.
A kilometer into the trip, a young lady entering the taxi refused to be sanitized insisting that she had sanitized at home.
“This is what I deal with some days,” rues Ralephata.
On arrival at a taxi rank, I saw dozens of commuters going about their daily working lives wearing facemasks and gloves, hopping from one taxi to another.
The taxis at the rank are sanitized twice, but Ralephata laments they are not getting much support from the government because they have to buy their own protective gear.
As we wait for the second load of passengers, Ralephata keeps his sanitizer close at hand and stands by the sliding door, spraying every passenger coming in.
On our way home, he tells me about his daily fears.
“When someone coughs or sneezes, I get scared and think that’s the virus. I just wish that the person is not carrying the virus,” he says.
The young entrepreneur is aware that his job could put his family at risk.
“When I go home after work, I sanitize my hands before holding the door handle, then I go straight to the bathroom for a hot bath and only then, can I bond with the kids.”
Covid-19 is crippling his business and he prays for a vaccine soon because his liquor store business has also been affected.
Ralephata is not reaching his daily targets but helping the community is as much an important motive for him.