17 January 2018

CHANGE: In solidarity with Hiace drivers

Reem Shawkat talks about the hardships of minivan drivers in Khartoum and their daily struggle against a defunct system. 

The other day, I took a Hiace (small minivan) to go to a meeting in Khartoum. I was lucky enough to sit in the front seat next to the driver, which in my opinion, is the most comfortable seat.

I began asking the driver, who was a young man in his late 20’s, about his job. Being a journalist, I talk to all kinds of people and I especially like talking to drivers (Amjad drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers), they usually give a comprehensive view of how different people are struggling in Sudan. They also have very interesting stories, the college graduate looking for a job and driving his uncle’s Amjad or the civil servant who drives a taxi at night.

I asked him about the number of rounds  he makes everyday. He said on average he makes about ten rounds, he works 12 hours a day and sometimes in the weekend to make more money.

“Forty pounds goes to gas everyday,” he said. Then he told me about paying a fine equivalent to 30 pounds on a daily basis.

Let me give you some background on this “fine”. The Hiace (minivans) are privately owned and to get a license that enables you to use this vehicle to transport non-family, you have to pay less than 200 pounds. A while ago, they stopped giving this “license” and now if you want to drive a Hiace, you have to pay this fine because you don’t have the license that they refused to give you in the first place.

If you do a simple calculation, the drivers have to pay 600 pounds a month instead of less than 200 a year. “This is theft that is protected by law,” said the  helpless Hiace driver adding that he can’t stop working because he needs to make ends meet and cannot protest this great injustice.

There are thousands of minivans operating in Khartoum state, they are faster and have more stops than the large buses. This 30 pounds is probably not a lot of money to the officials sitting behind desks and refusing to grant the Hiace drivers the necessary license, but for this young man, it means at least 3 hours of  driving a fully-packed car in the boiling heat and thinking about whether he will make enough profit to put food on the table after paying the fine and buying gas.

“I can not think about tomorrow, I buy everything from electricity to food on a day-to-day basis,” said the young driver.

It is a vicious cycle that is very difficult to stop. The drivers can not strike or stop paying the fine because they need to work. The fact that they work for daily needs makes them even more vulnerable, in other words, they can not afford or have the time to take a stance against injustice.

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