Originally published 30 March 2012
Welcome to Cape Town’s sub-city. Welcome to the twisted, intestinal tangle of the underworld that exists beneath the veneer and sheen. In the shadows made by the synthetic lighting that illuminates the city from below, life lurks, or something like it. Crawling. Creeping. Worming all over each other are existences regulated mainly by social contract and murky practise. A hierarchy of hustles where a fleet of invisible strangers operate like Charon – the ferryman of Hades. Floating quietly in the background haze of our consciousness are the cab drivers. The navigators of the underground.
Max pulls up in his mid-90’s box-shaped Corolla. The paint-job was once white. The seats once leather, now thoroughly worn thin. Strips of grey stretch in between fraying threads of cotton. The foam underneath exposed like insides of a disembowelled, fluffy beast. These seats have carried their cross. Seen their fair share of funk and freaks. Tourists with Afro-sex fetishes. Students on a binge. Prostitutes. Drug dealers. Bouncers. Club owners. The underbelly of Cape Town. The Lords of the other.
Max is an ex-retailer. He used to work at a Spar in Chivu, Zimbabwe. But the fertile ground started caving in. Industries closed. Inflation reached ridiculous highs and the wages, that once sustained him and his family, could no longer even afford groceries. In 2007 he left for Cape Town. “I didn’t have a plan. I was desperate. I obtained a diploma in marketing but I couldn’t get a job, so now I’m a cab driver.”
On one of his first nights driving in CT, he drove ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira to a club in Long Street. “I was thinking then: This is nice job. I get to meet celebrities. I keep the money I earn, maybe it won’t be so bad.” A few months later, he picked up Akon’s bodyguards, and helped them find some, um, lady friends for the duration of their stay. It was then that the lines began to blur. When his modest job unabashedly hitched up its skirt. When he realised that what he was actually driving was sex.
Whores. Strippers. Pimps. Traffickers. Men looking for a little company to shelter them from the Cape Doctor. Prostitutes are his number one clients. It’s a mutually beneficial, purely symbiotic relationship. They use his services, he arranges mate-meets. “Sometimes I’ll pick someone up from the airport and the first thing they want is a girl. I’m friends with a lot of girls. We help each other.” But it’s not all haphazard, random pick-ups. Max is on the payroll of many high profile strip clubs and brothels. “Basically all of the strip clubs are brothels. Well, most of them anyway. I get commission for every client I bring to the club, and more if he buys more than just the regular lap-dance. It’s a lot of money, up to R300 for each person – but Mavericks only pays R50.”
You see the high priced penthouses and lofts all over the town? The ones with constant human traffic? Well, they discreetly operate as whore houses. So says Max. Wedged in between restaurants and flats in the trendy part of town. Lavishly decorated with lush carpeting (to minimise the rug burn), full-size nudes hang in the entrance halls. “The pictures are like a menu. There’s the pictures, and a little description of the girls, and you choose which ones you want from the wall. Those guys pay a lot. I have a monthly target of people to bring to them – but they especially love tourists. People who pay in Euros and Dollars. I actually drove Akon’s bodyguards to one of these penthouses.”
Sexy rules the underworld. It spills out of the fuck clubs and the TV screens onto the streets and into the cabs. “People have sex in the cab all the time. I just had to get used to it.” Once while parked at a filling station, he was approached by two men. “They didn’t tell me where they were going. Didn’t ask how much it was. They just told me to drive to an empty spot and then they paid me R400 to leave them alone in the cab. They were having sex in the backseat. When they finished, they called me back, and I dropped the one man off to a restaurant where his wife was waiting for him.” He chuckles. His laugh is impish, a chid-like mischief and naivety. “Can you believe? Two mans!”
But that’s not the first bit of naughty/nasty the Corolla backseat had witnessed. At least twice a month a drunk couple, unable to tame the hormones and the lust, bump uglies right there. “These kids from Bishopscourt started fucking as soon as they got in the cab. They were bumping the driver’s seat, and sho, it smelt funny. They wanted me to get them drugs, but I don’t do that anymore. It’s too dangerous.”
By day, Max drives busy go-getter types to work, assists old ladies with their groceries; but by night, he’s the negotiator of the greys. Steering the course of the evening. Facilitating the fuckery.
*Illustration © Trevor Paul.