Chapa vs. Kumbi

One of the most striking details that I noticed while in Swaziland was the distinct sense of personal space and propriety.  One situation that struck me as particularly clear example of this was the bus system.

In all the African countries I have traveled in, the most common and affordable way to get around is to take a “bus” – bus means a big van that follows a route, and picks up anyone on the street going more or less the same way.  In Mozambique this sort of transportation is called a chapa (pronounced shah-pah), in Ghana it’s called a tro-tro, and in Swaziland it’s called a kumbi.

Chapas in Mozambique (and for that matter in South Africa and Ghana) get  filled to the brim with up to 24 people, basically as many passengers and boxes that can possible squeeze into the car. The door man will hang out of an open sliding door, clinging to the closest person and roof. Each time someone gets out the rest of the row either has to move out quickly and hop back in, or the cornered passenger literally craws over a row of passengers to exit.

(click for bigger image)

In Swaziland however, it was like being on a different planet. Courtney, Sarah and I sat there in shock and loving all the extra wiggle room as strictly 12 to 14 people got on. 3 people per row and no squeezing! Perhaps not quite the same adrenaline rush as the fear of missing your exit or drop off, but totally impressive nonetheless. 



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8 responses to “Chapa vs. Kumbi

  1. Elizabeth

    One of my favorite memories of being in South
    Africa was my first kumbi ride. We stopped to let an old woman on who was carrying a box. I offered to help her, but when I picked up the box a chicken popped out, surprising me and causing me to drop the whole thing.

    Love your recent posts – particularly your adventures with Christopher in Swaziland!

    Miss you!

  2. Alice

    Your Blog is Wonderful! I am always so happy to read it and marvel at your writing, illustrations and photographs. Thank You for this Gift!

  3. Dr. Elizabeth



    That might have been one of the biggest inter-African nation “culture shock” moments I have ever experienced!

    Your picture is beautiful, can you make a mural of this on the wall of my hut?

  5. I love the post, brilliant, however I feel compelled to correct one thing about SA. 5 years ago our government introduced a “taxi recapitalisation programme”, basically all the taxis (mini bus) are now operated by government with very strict laws to protect passengers.

    e.g. In the front next to the driver, the taxis have only one seat for passengers and all the seats have safety belts. These taxis carry a maximum of 15 people.

    We also have an efficient Railway system and a new system called “BRT” short for Bus Rapid Transit, buses that run every 30 minutes.

    I rest my case

    • cstabler

      I stand corrected! Thanks for the update on SA’s transportation development. I look forward to experiencing it and all its BRT glory next time I’m down there.

  6. Wonderful post. Full of color and information. THANK YOU!

  7. Alexandra

    gorgeous illustration, Camille! (as always)

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