The Star Early Edition

If you can’t beat Joburg traf­fic chaos, join it

- DE­NIS BECK­ETT Greenland · Sherlock Holmes

SATAN ar­ranged this date, clearly. In south-east cen­tral Joburg, where build­ings are shells and streets are rub­bish pits. That’s rough, though I soften upon find­ing that the con­vener has ac­tual work­ing premises there, hold­ing out for em­ploy­ment and the econ­omy and hope.

But 5pm! Sen­si­ble Joburg­ers don’t go round the block at 5pm, never mind traips­ing to Fouledup­pia.

How­ever… maybe I men­tioned, though you surely for­got, that this un­ex­pected re­turn to colum­nis­ing feels fab­u­lously free. Not that pre­vi­ous times were un­free – by­pass­ing three oc­ca­sions that my one-time boss, Percy Qoboza, ac­ci­den­tally lost a con­tentious item. But there was the feel­ing that you had to take on Mighty Is­sues of State.

Nowa­days I don’t read that twad­dle, let alone write it. Which is wrong, I sup­pose, as if declar­ing that the state is be­yond hope. (Well, ob­vi­ously, if not even a whole col­umn can put things to rights.) But it also means awak­en­ing to un­mighty re­al­ity on the ground.

Like city-cen­tre traf­fic jams, and an as­ton­ish­ing rev­e­la­tion about un­wit­ting prej­u­dice.

On the free­way or in the sub­urbs, it feels right that the Gaut­eng ra­dio pro­grammes give you traf­fic info on ro­bots out on Wil­liam Ni­col, ro­bots out on Eskia Mphahlele, po­lice ac­tion in Fred­man, sta­tion­ary ve­hi­cle on the M2, protest ac­tion on the R21…

But when you’re in, say, Ris­sik Street, your feel­ing is “Ex­cuse me? This is the epi­cen­tre of this city. How is there no men­tion that Bree will be grid­locked till mid­night, that Mar­ket is a mound of metal, that Mar­shall is worth try­ing if you can get to it?”

I tell you this in real awe. Over years of high­way/sub­urb rush-hours, it never crossed my mind that an ex­clu­sion was on the go. In how many cities on this globe, I won­der, can the ra­dio com­mu­nity treat down­town as if it’s in Green­land, while pre­sent­ing more bul­letins on the sub­urbs than even in­surance ad­ver­tise­ments?

And what de­mo­graphic fea­ture might con­ceiv­ably ex­plain this phe­nom­e­non? In this su­per-sen­si­tive age of non-ra­cial re­spect and equal recog­ni­tion?

If we pulled Sher­lock Holmes out of re­tire­ment, and brought in In­spec­tor Clouseau and Cap­tain Benny Gries­sel, they’d doubt­less fig­ure out an an­swer within a month or two. I wouldn’t dare guess, of course. I just record in­ter­ested sur­prise. Plus a fore­taste of a witch­hunt in 10 or 15 years – ra­dio ex­ecs on trial, de­nounc­ing their pre­de­ces­sors for un­for­giv­able racism in the twenty-teens.

But then, this same trip also taught me some hu­mil­ity.

Sev­eral times, curs­ing driv­ers for law­less­ness and stu­pid­ity, I re­learned how dif­fer­ent these things are. It’s law­less to keep cross­ing a robot way into its red – in one case all the way un­til its next green turn be­gan. But, when you are prac­ti­cally touch­ing the ve­hi­cle in front of you, it’s not stupid. If you’re close enough, the cross street never gets a chance to en­dan­ger you by us­ing its green.

Stupid is man­i­fest, though, and high on the list is en­ter­ing an in­ter­sec­tion that has no exit. You merely add to the shout­ing, hoot­ing, static mess.

Many times this process leaves me think­ing “stupid”. Then up comes my mo­ment, and sud­den blind­ing clar­ity shrieks “Go!”

Now I’m the guy I call stupid. Why? Be­cause my choice was to be ham­mer or nail. Ei­ther I fill that space in front of the new da­m­age I’m caus­ing, or the next guy fills it and I’m be­hind.

I got a lit­tle less right­eous. I still want to know how a cen­tury of or­derly streets grad­u­ated into this.

 ??  ?? Con­tact Stoep: E-mail: dbeck­ett@global.co.za
Con­tact Stoep: E-mail: dbeck­ett@global.co.za

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