Tag Archives: N1

Chaos & anarchy in Limpopo

Slow traffic means people just add more lanes - off the road - three extra lanes on the road verges in this case! This doesn't tell the full story because cars still overtook on double barrier lines, only to pull over onto the far right verge when there was oncoming traffic. In some places, there were seven lanes of traffic and only one of them legal.

Driving to Polokwane on Sunday morning, I saw something that is commonplace on Limpopo’s roads, in fact it’s the norm. I was overtaken on a blind rise with a double barrier line by a gunmetal VW Golf, registration number 333 BEE L.

Cynical irritation! Does BEE mean you own the roads? Does 333 mean you didn’t quite crack it and with a 777 you’d be driving an Audi, BMW, Merc or Range Rover? Limpopo drivers have killed these brands for me! If I wanted to protect my brand, I’d start qualifying those I sell to because Limpopo drivers are certainly not brand ambassadors.

Driving on, I wondered how long my luck would last. Rural Limpopo has amongst the worst accident statistics anywhere.

I didn’t have to wait long. Further along the non-toll R101, I came across a number of cars pulled over with people crossing the road to look down on the N1 which runs alongside at that point. Obviously an accident and I had to wonder if it was 333 BEE L that had caused it. (I learnt later it was a head-on collision between a petrol tanker and a vehicle, with fatalities.)

A little further on, traffic came to an almost-grinding halt.  Vehicles were being diverted onto the R101 from the N1 and the three traffic cops on point duty would have done the keystone cops proud.  One (an urgent candidate for government’s weight reduction programme for law enforcement officials) was chatting to a driver at the head of the oncoming queue.  The second was trying to get the chatting driver to move on while a third was trying to get another queue to take the gap.  Traffic was now at a standstill!

But it was to get worse… much worse.  By now, the N1 was being diverted where it leaves Polokwane and I experienced my first taste of Limpopo chaos and anarchy.  My route to Polokwane no longer existed.  All traffic lanes in both directions were occupied by vehicles leaving Polokwane.  And that wasn’t enough — they created several additional lanes in the verges.  And these were not only cars and bakkies joining the new lanes, buses filled with passengers were taking the rough-terrain route too.

Those heading to Polokwane were forced to bundu-bash… on the far side of the road signs alongside the edge of the road reserve.

Provincial traffic officers looked on helplessly… these are road manners, Limpopo-style.

There is no patrolling
& policing of moving
violations in Limpopo.

This just demonstrates the Western view of a dysfunctional, lawless Africa. And in this case, it all starts with the Limpopo Traffic Department not doing its job.  You will almost never see provincial cops patrolling for moving violations.  You’ll be stopped frequently for your driver’s licence and you’ll see no end of speed traps, often manned by ten or more officers.

That’s not the solution to solving the traffic carnage in Limpopo.  En route from Johannesburg a week ago on the N1, I noticed a black car approaching from behind very, very fast – way over the speed limit.  It suddenly slowed down as it got alongside me and I noticed the blackened windows and the flashing blue light on the dashboard on the FS-registered E Class black Mercedes.

And there was the speed trap!  Once we passed it, the Mercedes disappeared into the distance in no time, way, way above the speed limit.  One must wonder, was that a standard speed trap location or are government officials and politicians advised of their locations?

Repeatedly in these travels, it’s been traffic violations by provincial officials (especially in Health & Social Welfare vehicles) and politicians that stand out.  They forget that the law applies to them too and they should be setting the example.

How can Limpopo Tourism promote their province when their roads are so dangerous?

What can be done?  The buck stops at the Provincial Traffic Chief.  Is he doing his job?  The carnage on his roads is his responsibility. If he ignores that responsibility, he is party to the homicide that occurs on his roads and should be charged for that crime.

A complaint against the Limpopo Provincial Traffic Department (ref 3400778) has been lodged on the Presidential Hotline.

Five of SA’s nine provinces in one day!

En route to Beaufort West

En route to Beaufort West

Today’s plan is to drive until I’ve had enough – and I’m not accustomed to long drives.  That does mean hourly stops for the animals’ piepie breaks and walks, and those are rarely short because Akela loves sniffing and there are so many strange smells.  She can spend 10 minutes smelling a single leaf – I’d love to know what she can tell.

The day started off spectacularly – our early morning long walk was under a blanket of bright stars.  I seem to have grown more appreciative of the Karoo landscape too – the varying vegetation and always the spectacular mountain ranges, like those above on the road to Beaufort West.

The telephone poles alongside the road tell the story of changes in information technology – a once busy telephone pole now only carries two strands of wire.

I’m starting to get used to the Sony A200 DSLR camera and it seems impossible to take a bad photograph with it.  I’ve only been using the Auto setting and must still explore the manual overrides.  I love the way it starts focussing as you bring it to your eye and the speed of taking the pic and saving it.  No lag at all!

I tried the SatNav on my Blackberry cellphone for the first time and was surprised to see the distance to Mokopane was about 1,500km.  I thought it was more… could it be reached in one day?

Beaufort West really surprised me… it has character!  I remember it from 20 years ago as a rather dusty and easily-forgettable town.  If this wasn’t a drive north with a mission I would have stopped to explore.  Another time.

Breakfast was beckoning and the Shell UltraCity before Three Sisters proved to be the perfect stop.  It was, without doubt, the best National Road service station I encountered in the trip north.  (The worst was a BP stop on the outskirts of Bloemfontein.)  Staff made eye-contact when they spoke to you, they were outgoing and very friendly.  And of course nothing beats a toasted bacon and egg sandwich.

There was a great playground for kids (no pets please!) and an equally great place to walk and water pets.

The last time I drove this route I remember being bored out of my mind.  I must have changed because I appreciated the scenery far more than before.  But then I remember looking at Hermanus’ mountains in 2004 and thinking, “Strange that I never noticed how beautiful they are are before.”

In the past 20 years I’ve driven more national roads in France and the USA than I have in SA, and ours leave much to be desired.  I wondered if a better legacy project for 2010 shouldn’t have been a proper freeway between Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Now that would generate a lot of jobs!

As one drove out of the Western Cape, traffic police patrolling the N1 were replaced by traffic police hiding alongside their speed traps, while large, articulated trucks drove in convoys of six, making overtaking a slow and dangerous business.

The approaches to Bloemfontein arrived with a proper freeway system but enjoying the decent road wasn’t to last for long, and was replaced by the most irritating feature of road travel in the Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo – toll roads!

If these were engineering wonders, or spectacular roads along scenic routes, they might be justified.  But all the toll roads I experienced fall far short of freeway status and most were plagued by road works.

The whole of the Western Cape has two toll roads – the Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 between Paarl and Worcester, and Chapman’s Peak Drive.  All other national roads are free.  I lost count of the number of toll plazas between Bloemfontein and Mokopane, and the cost must have been around R200.  It’s iniquitous and a sign of public sector incompetence.  A cop out!

Imagine if the Western Cape had to levy a special tourist tax for visitors from these provinces, to level the playing field.

As dusk and Johannesburg approached, Blackberry’s SatNav – or Vodafone’s SatNav to be more accurate – really came into it’s own.  Using it chews up the cellphone’s battery but luckily, with no car charger, I kept the battery going by charging the phone from my laptop.

One learns to rely on SatNav so quickly… at the expense of all inner sense of direction, even glossing over road directional signs in favour of Blackberry’s directions and instructions.  And this was how I found myself on the M1 South at about 7pm on a Friday.

The outbound lane was crawling at a snails pace as a result of a rather gruesome accident.  The speed limit (due to construction work) on my side was 80km/h; I was doing 100km/h and was – by far – the slowest vehicle in sight.

And then there was another realisation – Joburg’s motorways have no street lighting and rarely have road verges where you can pull over!  I had arrived in the Wild West and darkest Africa in one fell swoop.  Eskom must love Joburg Municipality!

The M1 North to Pretoria offered more delays caused by accidents and drivers pushing their luck when they saw a gap.  French taxi drivers would be at home here.  The Great North Road (N1) is littered with toll plazas and, given the heavy traffic on the road, seems to be way under specification.

The solution seems easy to me.  Let Jacob Zuma pay his own legal bills and transfer what’s saved there as well as the budget for politicians’ protection units to road building.  Those cool dudes in their dark glasses and hearing aids could be redeployed…

“That was a long drive!” Kenya just crashed.

Enough of those flights of fancy… the reality is I drove over 1,500km in a day, I saw five of South Africa’s nine provinces in one day.  I had arrived in Mokopane/Potgieterusrus in Limpopo Province.  Who would ever have thought that I would visit Potties!

It’s not that onerous a journey, even driven alone, and it does give one a unique perspective of South Africa’s incredible landscape.