I live in Johannesburg and while I am not being charged ridiculous amounts of money for it, I am using our brilliant network of highways, which I have to say, have always been brilliant and always been there, so what I will be paying for when E-tolls eventually do go live, I can only assume will be the exorbitant cost of collecting the e-tolls. Highway upgrades, in my opinion are not something the public should be paying for via a tolling system (no matter what John Robbie says..), a new highway that spans Johannesburg from East to West, a flyover from Benoni to Roodepoort for instance which is desperately needed, (if such a thing were to be built), I would gladly pay to use it.
I have been back in Johannesburg (from Cape Town) for a year now, and in that time I have collected two speeding fines. Each time, I have reacted in exactly the same way, “no ways, I don’t *&%^ing speed! Must be a mistake”. Then I check them, and there I am in my white Mazda driving past Empire Road on the M1, knowing there is a camera, doing 95 in an 80 zone.... R350. Or going down Jan Smuts doing 71 in a 60 zone, R150, (there is a 50% discount on all fines at the moment) or whatever the hell they are going to charge me, I don’t know yet, because I refuse to even open the fine and look at the damn thing.
You see, I convince myself, that I am calm, chilled and in my happy place, I try drive patiently and resolutely, yet when I am in a slight hurry, I seem to forget my breathing techniques and mantras, and turn into, well, all the people I tend to complain about so much.
There is a website www.drivelikeachop.co.za, where you can name and shame other road users who drive like “chops”, and if you care to break the law, you can even take a picture using your camera phone and post it of fellow South Africans driving badly. Most of us should just put up our own pictures, because let’s be honest, our behaviour on the road is atrocious.
I was working in Waverley and needed to go exchange a computer headset at Eastgate before a Yoga class at 11am in Parkhurst. You see, a flyover would be awesome. So I leave at 9-55am, figuring it’s plenty of time. Anyway, driving through Norwood I get to a traffic light ...(it’s not a robot, “Wall-E” is a robot, “R2D2” is a robot, the things South Africans steal cable out of, are TRAFFIC LIGHTS!) I digress. This traffic light (I should just call it a robot, so much easier to type) is outside a petrol station, (not a garage, that is where you park your car....) I digress again, and there is a guy in a Honda, (warning sign already, right? a guy, in a Honda....) trying to exit and enter traffic to head in the opposite direction to me, so being the nice guy that I am, I create a space, and wave him through. He is so surprised that I made this gesture, that he looks around with that “who me?” expression! I offer him an affirmative, that yes, I am indeed offering him the opportunity to beat the traffic and carry on his merry way so, does he go? No! He creeps forward, stops, checks for traffic, ( there is none), but he stops and checks for traffic again, dilly dallying as only a Honda driver could, meanwhile I am about to miss my green light and my samaritanism is turning to aggression rather rapidly and generating steam which is now effusing from my ears. My smile and friendly gestures turn into flailing hand movements and me accentuating “YES YOU, YOU #$%@!!! &$^%ing MORON, GO ALREADY!!! FFS!!!” The thought of being nice and then being inconvenienced byt hen being stuck at a red light, was just too much too take! Eventually he went, almost stalling his car in the process and so I wheel spin off just making the light and proceed to rally up the road, causing pedestrians to jump out my way, and they were on the pavement.
I am now the “moer in” as the expression goes, and proceed to turn into “a chop”. Speeding, driving up the backside of the car in front of me who is not adhering to the unwritten law of driving “at least 10km/h over the speed limit”, swearing at drivers who are slowing down to turn into their own driveways...Yet, when I look around, I see my behaviour is normal, everyone drives like this.
We as South Africans, feel that our time is way more precious than that of anyone else, so we use the emergency lanes on the highway, cross solid white lines to get one car ahead at the next turning lane, push into traffic and block other drivers, so we can get to our meeting, fetch our kids, get to a shopping centre, or in my case, arrive on time for a nice relaxing, calming yoga class. I even find myself using unknown alternative routes, that causes my GPS to tell me to “make a legal u-turn at the next safe place”, all because the light changed red and there was a slip road and well, I am sure this road goes somewhere, and it’s heading in kind of the right direction, which in this case led to a series of blocked off suburbs. I proceeded to make a series of hand break turns that Jeremy Clarkson would’ve been proud of.
Driving in this city is frustrating. There are potholes, traffic lights that don’t work, road works, broken down taxis, working taxis and stopped-the-middle-of-the-road taxis, but the most irritating thing about Gauteng for me, is how badly timed the light are. It frustrates me, when you are stuck at a light and it changes (finally!) only for the one 50 metres away to change to red. This goes on for kilometres. Does the person who sets the timing ever get in a car and drive these roads? I doubt it. It actually pays to speed, if you can get your car from a standing to start to 320km/h you can make it through most series of lights. If the lights were timed for drivers doing 60km/h, people would stick to the speed limit!! Duh this isn’t rocket science. I hope a city planner is reading this.
So, what is it that turns us into metal crunching Zombies, the second we get behind the wheel of a car? Where do our fantasies of driving monster trucks over the car in front of us while we hang out the window maniacally, looking like Heath Ledger as “the Joker” in the Dark Knight come from? Who made us the selfish rulers of the road?
If you think I am lying, I have an experiment for you! The next time you are on the highway, driving at 100 to 120km/h (hopefully), and the car in the lane to your right, is driving at more or less the same speed indicate to move into their lane. I am willing to bet that that car speeds up immediately, just in case, God forbid we get in front of them. I do this test daily, smirking gleefully every time it works, which, so far, is every time.
Why do we feel nothing for other drivers waiting patiently in miles of traffic to get off at William NIcol off ramp, only for us to drive past them and cut our way indignantly in front of them into traffic, like we are more important than they are? Swearing at the people who complain, as if they are the assholes? And why, do people let these drivers in??? If you do cut in like that, you are a chop! First class. Oh, and another thing, weaving in and out of traffic, switching to faster moving lanes on the highway will get you nowhere faster, the problem is the on and off ramps. I see this all time, only for Mario Andretti, to end up next to me or behind me when we exit the highway.
Back to the traffic lights. We hate stopping at these things, and it’s not because we are in a hurry, no, its because we have to deal with drive by shopping malls of cellular accessories, cold drinks, replica sports jerseys, caps, and the cheapest RayBans and Oakleys on the planet, (I never do understand why, if I am wearing sunglasses, some dude thinks I need another pair, what is he? the fashion police!) Or you get rosary a shoved in your face, for“mahala” or an ID book holder, and in some areas, an actual ID book. At most intersections, there are beggars, some with amusing signs like “my dog stole my neighbours bread and I need money for bail” or the standard, “No Money No Job” and the increasingly popular, “I am not a criminal..blabla.” So we close our windows and look straight ahead and pretend as if they don’t exist, and pray for the light to change before they make our lives slightly uncomfortable for a few seconds.
We moan and complain, and we comment and rant and rave, yet we don’t let our fellow drivers into traffic, we don't wait in queues, we don’t stop at red lights or stop streets or yields or pedestrian crossings. We speed, we break the law, yet we moan about the Richard Mdlulis of this world, whose alleged crimes may be just a tad worse than ours, but hey, we break the law and get away with it, so what gives us the right to judge someone else’s crime? Before you go into the “ya well I didn’t kill anyone routine” jump a few more red lights and that little statistic may change.
Holiday season is a harrowing time in South Africa, we get on our roads heading for our chosen destination so we can relax and unwind, and kill more people in one Road trip than all the people who were murdered during apartheid. Lead SA asks us to drive with our lights on? Do we? No. When you are on the road, which cars do you notice first? I bet, it’s an Audi with those fancy shmancy LEDs around the headlamps...just putting that out there, for those of you who think it is a pointless exercise.
These are all things we all do on a daily basis, if not all of them, then one or two, admit it. If you live in Johannesburg and don’t drive like that, then you are probably the Dalai Lama, and shouldn’t “your holiness” be out healing the world? I forgot, you can’t be the Dalai Lama, he is not allowed in this country, it upsets our Rhino poaching friends too much!
Every week this beautiful land is marred with the filth of corruption, nepotism and too much attention paid to pointless issues. A painting of a penis has been slapped (sic) with a “no under 16s”age restriction, it got a full march, which diverted traffic on a main road, a painting which was sold to a German and will never be seen in this country again. Who pays the cost of that little procedure? I am not going to go into all the money wasting that happens, but I will mention firing our national coach (football this week – maybe rugby next week) and all these little things, that we tweet and bleat about cost millions, yet we have young South Africans standing on the side of the road begging for change or food or jobs, and all they get is indignation, ignored, resentment and treated like a sub species. But ask yourself this, what is that guy supposed to do for a living? I went to college, 4 different ones, I studied for 5 years in all, I have close to 20 years experience in my chosen field, yet I can’t find a job. What chance do these guys have? Who is going to hire them? and if they did get hired, what work would they do? They are victims of the system, and the system forces them to beg.
When I do have change, I give it, granted I pick who I give to as I don’t support drunks or drug addicts and I definitely don’t give money to children, but I do support young people who are struggling to find work. I am lucky, I don’t have kids to feed, and I am not living in a shack or on the street this winter, or any other winter. I have warm clothes, a roof over my head and a warm bed. So I show compassion, as I would not want to be in their broken shoes.
There are a couple of guys I support regularly, when I have rubbish in my car I put it in their bags and give them a rand or two, or 5 cents if that is all I have, and if I have nothing, I at least have the decency to look them in the eye and show them a bit of dignity, which is the least they deserve. Now, whenever I pull up to their “office” I am acknowledged with a smile and a salute, they know my car, and I get a smile as if I were an old friend. I think it has more to do with the fact, that I treat them like human beings rather than the few rand I have donated to the cause.
How many times have you been stuck in traffic, only to find out it’s due to rubber necking? My dictionary defines rubber necking as the art of slowing down to gawk at the misfortune of some idiot who drove into some other idiot. We instantaneously turn into forensic detectives, in 3.4 seconds we work out “how she was on her phone, and he had changed lanes without indicating, and that the damage to his X5 will cost at least R43 600”.
This winter, try use those “CSI skills” to work out when someone approaches your window, if they are not brandishing a weapon that is, where that person is going to sleep tonight, what they will be eating and how they will keep themselves warm. If you don’t want to give anything to them, that is cool, but at least look them in the eye and show some compassion for a fellow human being.
So yes, I am hypocrite, I drive badly and break the law. I cut people off, and don’t let them into traffic. I speed and “yield” at stop streets, but in order to help the healing process in this country, I at least try and treat my fellow citizens as human beings, how I would like to be treated if I were in their position, because, for whatever reason if you found yourself having to beg for money to feed your family, how would you feel if you were just ignored like the trash lying on the side of the road?
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.