Opuwo’s Famous Red Taxi

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By Michael Liswaniso OPUWO Have you ever purchased bags of groceries and decided to carry the foodstuffs home with your own bare hands without the use of a taxi? Well, maybe some could do it but in this fast-track changing globe there is always a need to flag down a taxi or to use a car to transport such items home. This is why in most towns today we see scores of taxis on the move. However, Opuwo town, which houses a population of more than 8 000 people, has only one operating taxi, compared to Windhoek and other towns which have virtual fleets on their roads. The famous one and only Opuwo taxi is the latest model of the Citi Golf which is driven by 34-year-old Benestus Puriza, who says he wakes up around 05h00 each morning to attend to all summonses from Opuwo customers who want to use his service. It is not long before this famous red taxi is seen cruising along the busy main avenue of the town, Mbumbijazo Muharukua. “I receive numerous calls each morning from different people who want to use my service. Being the sole operator, the business is there indeed.” Asked whether he is being viewed as and being told by customers he is “a monopoly” operator, Puriza said although he is a sole operator he does not take advantage of the situation, adding that his taxi fares are market related and adhere to all the “golden rules” determined by the Opuwo Town Council. Opuwo is yet to establish a committee affiliated to the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (NABTA) and thus, all taxi registrations are handled via the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication in Windhoek, according to Puriza, who went through the same registration process. Hence the local town council is tasked with approval of all the fares. He said the town council approved that he charges N$6.50 just like in any other town. Adding flesh to the same bone, Puriza noted that he makes about N$200 a day mainly from residents shopping at the three grocery trading stores – OK Grocer, Power Save and Opuwo Supermarket as well as those going out of town to places such as, among others, Alpha, situated 16 km south of Opuwo. “Everyday people that buy from these shops normally call me to pick them up. I also normally assist even those ones going to Alpha.” Puriza, who was born in Opuwo, told New Era that he has seen the town grow from a village, adding that he will expand his business if things continue in his favour. “If it continues like this then it will mean business for me and I have no doubt that it will grow from strength to strength.” Opuwo has more than 10 taxi rankswhich are yet to be officially defined by the town council due to financial constraints in this year’s financial budget. Even though this is the case, however, Puriza with the green light from the Opuwo Town Council plans to put up taxi rank signs at these places while awaiting the official demarcation. Puriza has been in the taxi business for three years now. Earlier this year he was driving a white Fox Volkswagen, a 1990 model but due to prominent engine failures he decided to replace it with his new “achievement”. “Ever since I bought this new model, business seems to be on the right footing and I am trying to mature business-wise as the sun rises and sets each day and find a better life,” he confidently said. He confessed that most of the times his old taxi had engine problems, while his phone kept ringing every day with queries from customers about when he was going to fix the problem. “I really lost a lot of money during that time but at least I am now back and hopefully for good and I wish this new taxi will not give me problems this time, not just now.” He has been with his new taxi for four months now. Puriza who is yet to tie the knot feeds his family from the money he generates every day. He lives with his parents, sisters and nephews at a family house in the Okatuo location. Puriza, who is a grade 10 graduate with low points, says, “I never really performed well at school but I am now trying to find another form of making a living which is slowly but surely giving me a better standard of living and hopefully soon I will probably buy my own plot.” The Puriza family is among the first names to unveil business outlets in Opuwo, and Puriza has held numerous managerial positions in his family’s businesses since 1994. “The taxi is really helpful enough here in Opuwo and I just wish Ben the best of luck in all his taxi operations so that at least one day he can buy another one, because it is sometimes awkward to wait for more than 30 minutes without a taxi at a hectic month-end with carrier-bags in hand. So if there were two or more it could be superb and ease the month-end congestion,” said one resident of the town ‘Mix’ Daniel, who feels there should be some backup. The Puriza family originally hails from Omaruru in the Erongo Region but came to Opuwo in the early 1960s to open the first business outlets.