The Star Early Edition
If you can’t beat Joburg traffic chaos, join it
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.