Photos | ‘World-class’ African city falls apart

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The corner of Von Wielligh Street and Wemmer Jubilee Road in Johannesburg. Photo:  Tebogo Letsie/City Press
The corner of Von Wielligh Street and Wemmer Jubilee Road in Johannesburg. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press


There is nothing “world-class” about a city that is falling apart. Whether you are driving in the City of Joburg’s lush suburbs or through the dilapidated CBD, one thing is common – barely any traffic lights.

Some have been knocked down by vehicles during accidents and not repaired, while others have been destroyed by copper thieves.

The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) acknowledged the dismal state of the city’s traffic lights.

READ: Joburg mayor out, city to be under minority party Al Jama-ah

“In the face of such challenges, the entity is exploring ways to discourage the theft of copper cables from the traffic lights, including marking copper cable itself,” said Bertha Peters, the JRA’s spokesperson.

Peters added that, in order to discourage the thieves, the agency had been phasing in aluminium cladding, which makes the cable worthless as soon as it is burnt. 

Jan 13.2023. At Jan Smuts avenue. Photo: TEBOGO LE
An intersection on Jan Smuts Avenue
Vehicles and pedestrians have to navigate dangerous intersections when the robots are not working
Along Bram Fischer drive in Randburg.
Jan 13.2023. A passerby showing what is left of th
A passerby looks at what is left of some traffic lights afrer they were destroyed by copper thieves
A traffic light on Albertina Sisulu Road in the Roodepoort CBD
Thieves slice the robot poles to access the copper wire. This is at the corner of Joburg’s Mooi and Heidelberg roads

The JRA has spent more than R15 million over the past three years to rebuild and replace vandalised robots. It said that between December 2021 and January last year, about 120 traffic lights had been vandalised or knocked down by reckless motorists or in accidents.

A traffic light costs the agency between R300 000 and R400 000 to replace, Peters said.

The JRA had noted a surge in the vandalism of traffic lights and other infrastructure during load shedding, which has resulted in more road accidents at intersections and delayed trips and, in some cases, even leads to some incidents of road rage among motorists.

Peters said: 

We are currently looking into alternative technology to use in our traffic lights. We will go with what will ensure effective traffic flow; [a system that is] easy to manage and is cost-effective.

Damaged robots and load shedding have also led to a mushrooming of informal traffic controllers – mostly homeless people or beggars – at major intersections across the city. This seems to have happened because the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department seems to no longer send traffic wardens to help keep traffic flowing, especially during peak hours.

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