More than one trip in a
The wheels of the bus turn and turn on the way to Mpuma-Koloni and the National Arts Festival
Pretoria Station, or Bosman as the locals prefer to call it, is my plek. When I arrive there from the Gautrain at 3pm, it is its usual afternoon self. This changing spot for commuters was built in 1910 just before the Union of South Africa was formed. Instead of handing excess funds over to the new government, the Transvaal colony spent it on what stands today as the first colonial site that I will encounter on my trip.
Commuters spill out of the Metrorail and Gautrain stations to make their way to their destinations on foot, by taxi or using long-distance buses. I’m using the latter to get to Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown, for the National Arts Festival.
As I make my way to the bus station offices to check in my luggage, the heavy buzzing sound, similar to that of an unserviced tractor, escapes from the idle buses’ engines. At this time of the day the guardians who populate the station while it sleeps in the late hours of the night, with their worn-out Home Choice blankets and trailers that carry plastic bags and heaps of folded cardboard, are up and about interacting with commuters. All they ask in return for guarding it is loose change, half-eaten McDonald’s specials and the last puff from smokers’ cigarettes.
While I await the chariot with mirrors that protrude from its head like bug eyes, I watch other long-distance commuters board Translux, Citiliner, City to City and Greyhound buses. I also see people using unfamiliar services such as APM, Eagle Liner, Eldo Coaches or Mzansi, all marked with distinct colours to distinguish them from their competition.
I sit on a bench adjacent to a large “no hawkers” sign, which a large number of the Bosman population chooses to defy. The defiant merchants have studied the target market because they have many of the bus essentials — fleece blankets for the early-morning cold, snacks, airtime and water — selling for cheap, cheap. The sound of rolling luggage on the brick pavement signals the arrival of the bus that will be my home for the next 15 hours.
From Pitori to Jozi
When I reach the upper level of the double-decker Marcopolo bus I savour the smell of clean carpet because I know it will soon be replaced by that of meat pies, KFC Streetwise meals and damp feet. I find my seat and settle into the sound of crushing foil from chip packets being opened, cameras clicking for departure selfies and the idle bus mimicking the sound of a distant vacuum cleaner. Before long the bus moves and we drive past New Lock, the gallows and the Voortrekker Monument. While the sequence of these sites moves my stomach, the wheels on the bus continue to go round in a way that shrinks the perspective of these monuments.
We drive past the mushrooming townhouses, office parks, malls, billboards and factory outlets that characterise the highway between Pretoria’s and Johannesburg’s central business districts.
In Jo’burg’s city centre, my fellow passengers and I look down at pedestrians with a godlike glare because of how high up we are from the pavement until we reach the metal and concrete beams that form Park Station’s bus depot. When the gold that ensured the city’s rise was discovered in Gauteng, Johann and Johannes were common names in the Transvaal Republic. Some say the city’s name, Johannesburg, was sourced from Christiaan Johannes Joubert and Johann Rissik who went to Britain to get mining rights for the area.
I meet my seat-mate for the journey at Park. The flu-ridden man eases the uncertainty I have about whether he is equipped with bus etiquette by napping quietly next to me once he is settled. To support my neck, which will have to stay upright while holding up the high bun of thick braids on my head, I fold the blanket I packed as hand luggage into a makeshift pillow and recline my seat.
Soon the humming engine quiets the restless excitement in the bus down. One by one we fall asleep only to wake up when the bus goes so fast it feels as if the wind is swinging it violently from left to right.
The next 10 hours
The heavy smog of industrialised commercial cities is exchanged for