May 4, 2004

Anatomy of the daily commute- Johannesburg

Thanks again Karen for the guest spot here at Uborka. Im not sure it was a good idea to get Sevitz or I ranting too much, but anyway.

So today, we’ve decided on stress and commutting in our respective cities.
Getting to work in the mornings here in Joburg is stressful. It’s not easy to say why you get to the office so stressed, but you do. There are many reports this side of the world that explain that road rage is a big problem in South Africa. Its probably one of the only places in the world where you can actually see people get out of their cars (early in the morning) and stand and scream at other drivers. Hey, if you are lucky, they might even pull out a gun and start shooting.

Ok, so it’s not that bad every morning. Most of us don’t carry guns, and just sit in the traffic taking in what’s going on around us. It’s just that in order to get to work you need to either use your own car (if you lucky enough to be able to do so) or you are forced to make use of taxis.

For most Joburgers this is the only method they have. There aren’t any fancy modes of transport (the government here are only now planning on getting some kind of ‘tube’ together – I personally look forward to that day in 2008), and that means that most people have to use a taxi. No, it’s not a taxi like you would think. A taxi in SA refers to a combi Van.

What’s the problem with that, you ask?
Well firstly, taxi’s are usually driven by people who are not licensed. That means they can’t read. Or drive. Most taxi drivers are not concerned about road rules either. They go through traffic lights (yes, they drive through when they are green if they are in a hurry), cross over solid lines and (everyone’s favourite) drive in the emergency lane when they need to get somewhere quickly.

Secondly, taxi’s stop. Whether you are on the highway or just driving down a small street, a taxi can stop at any time, and offload passengers. That means that all the traffic behind must automatically stop as well, and you’d better hope that your ABS is working. Swearing and hooting generally follow soon thereafter, sometimes accompanied by that infamous gunshot.

Roadside sales assistants
On your way to work you WILL be greeted at every intersection by at least 2 people who will try to sell you some junk you don’t want. This can include anything from pirated DVD’s to magic sets to (my personal favourite) Yassar Arafat dolls (come on – who the hell actually buys that).
It makes no difference if you tell the person that you are not interested in buying anything. You can say it nicely or you can threaten to drive over the “roadside sales assistant” – either way he will still stand there flashing his goods insisting that you actually need that wood glue.
Luckily I’ve now got aircon in my car, so I can close the window. Suckers whose windows are open have papers thrust in through the window, and often land up with a whole collection of pen sets that they will never use. Even so, I still have to face sales assistants who (1) offer to wash my car window with some brown water scooped off the side of the road or (2) who throw their plastic snake on my windshield.

So you can see why most Joburg drivers just ignore what’s going on around them. If you had to take in all this kind of stimulus all day you would surely be bonkers. And aside from an earthquake or nuclear bomb going off in the road, the average South African driver will ignore everything around him until he parks his car at work.

So that brings me to my first visit to the UK. I got to a pedestrian crossing. I ran across the road, and when I looked back I realised that the cars had actually stopped. Cars were not hooting at me, and there was no-one sticking their head out of the window throwing obscenities at me. The UK – you guys have it good over there…

Bitter Marl

11 thoughts on “Anatomy of the daily commute- Johannesburg

  1. Did Betty get stuck in traffic this morning?

    Karen on May 4, 2004
  2. is the yasser arafat doll for real?? because if so, i want one!

  3. Estee – no lies. At a big intersection in Sandton here, some guy came up to my window with a Yassir boxing doll. Should I still see if they have some and post it over to you? It makes a great present…

  4. marl – would you really?? i would be eternally amused. i mean, grateful.
    and i will happily send you something in return, but i’m not sure if sydney has anything as random or bizarre as that..!

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