August 15, 2013 @ 12:00 pm - posted by David Beaumont

Driving in South Africa


Vehicles of all types here are very expensive. One in five drivers in South Africa attempt navigation without a licence. Car insurance is amazingly not compulsory, nor are MOT’s. Speed and traffic light cameras abound but very few contain film. Traffic police are virtually non-existent and when they do lurk by the roadside with a speed camera, you are warned by fellow criminals coming the other way flashing full beams, illegal at home now. Car owners routinely avoid paying the car tax which is a relatively meagre £25 or so, as well as any fines they may accrue. However, this all catches up with them when it comes to selling the car, as any with outstanding fines cannot be passed on. Good idea! Some cars are ancient and untested. It’s a recipe. Not a Jamie Oliver version. The standard of driving is appalling, worse than anything I have experienced in Italy.

South Africa taxi bus station
It’s OK in the countryside really but the cities have the notorious mini-bus taxis. These are rusty decrepit VW type camper vans with seats (just) that are ripped to pieces. They travel to and from the less salubrious parts of the city’s suburbs to the impoverished townships of Langa, Guguletu and Khayelitsha for example. This is where the really hard up live. Their life tragically,  already has little value but what is left is taken into their hands in these virtually unregulated vehicles. They crawl along the side of the roads touting for business like ladies of the night.

langa south africa pic

Their pilots and guides whistle and shout incomprehensibly (for me at least) trying to tempt the hapless bees to the pollen. I haven’t asked how much they are as I am not interested in partaking but presumably when passengers are routinely earning less than a hundred quid a month, not a lot. But they stop without any warning, anywhere. It may be half way across a junction, the inside lane of a dual carriageway or even on a pedestrian crossing. Just as they pull in without regard for their fellow road users, they pull out in a similar fashion and I am very wary when near one. The thing is there are millions of them here so they are always by your side and up your backside.

South African taxi bus tout

Undertaking is routine and I have seen them making four lanes on a three lane highway by squeezing into the daylight showing between the cars in lane two and three. Mercedes’ accelerate boy-racerishly by you and at the wheel you may find a rotund Muslim lady in her jelaba.

The two go together like Muslim and boy-racer. Jacqui was nearly wiped out by a Merc the other day as they pull out of side turnings just without looking. I was in the passenger seat which remarkably remained unstained.

Then there are the people who routinely inhabit the roads. Surely they must be aware how bad the driving is, but they try and cross roads willy-nilly. Some push rusty and dented shopping trolleys in a drunken line down the streets carrying anything re-usable, sellable or useful with total disregard for the traffic.

Lion traffic

Pedestrians stand in the middle of the road with traffic passing within inches either side driven by their impatient desires to get to the other side.

There are some odd differences. They have these four way crossings. You’ll be travelling down the main street of a small town admiring the beautiful scenery and just not expecting to have to give way. But as minor roads merge with the main road, all four sides have to give way. I have no idea what to do. First of all, I scream to a halt just not expecting to have to give way to a minor road. As the rubber clears, you find three cars at each entrance. So who goes first? Why is the main road not prioritised? Who knows? It’s easiest just to waive all the others on first and go last on the basis that the coast is clear.

south african road sign

Then there are the traffic lights. They are known as robots here; I’m not sure how the traffic-light expression was bastardised and they don’t march around like Michael Jackson as you may expect. Sometimes they all flash red which means they’re buggered and then they act like a four way crossing. A flashing green filter means that you can turn in that direction before traffic comes the other way. When green flash turns orange, you have to hurry or risk collision from impatient Africans eager to get away from the imprisonment of a red robot.

South Africa gorilla

About David Beaumont

David took a sabbatical in Southern Africa, a continent which he found humbling. Together with his wife and 8 year old daughter, they upped sticks in 2008, returning over two years later. The experience changed our lives, our outlook on life for the rest of our lives. We no longer run for tube trains; we're just grateful we have them. Our daughter now embraces her education. We covered South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland where our eyes were opened to so many new and different experiences. We have friends for life there now and return annually. Simply, the best decision we ever made!

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