Driving skills in Umtata

Driving in Umtata is quite amusing, and quite dangerous at times.  Probably a collection of the worst drivers in South Africa, probably excellent drivers compared to the rest of Africa.

I think a very high percentage of drivers here either have no licence, or they bought it.  If you're a government official, or work for one, the rules of the road don't apply to you, as the newspapers recently pointed out.  But they don't apply to anyone else either.

The yellow lane is a passing lane for taxis in many parts of the country; here, that holds true, but the oncoming lane is also a passing lane for taxis here.  As soon as it's dark, and you can no longer see the lines on the road, they become irrelevant, as I discovered in yesterday's power failure (almost as common as roads here in Umtata.)

When I had nearly reached my destination, driving in the middle lane of two, with cars passing me in the parking spaces on my left, I luckily didn't know whether I needed to turn left or right, so I turned left and parked.  Had I tried turning right, I'd have ended up in the funniest traffic jam I've seen.

In normal society, if the traffic lights don't work, they should be treated as a 4-way stop.  In Umtata, you just don't stop.  Other traffic has to wait for you.  It's a bit better at real 4-way stops.  There you just have to push your way into the intersection.  If you're second in line, you can get through without waiting your turn simply by going through on the tail of the car in front of you.  Generally, the unwritten rule here is that if the car entering the intersection hasn't yet obstructed your path, you can still enter and go.

The traffic jam was a perfect example of how rush hour traffic in Africa works.  Everyone has the right of way, everyone can go first, so everyone does.  And by refusing to allow anyone else right of way, it ends up as a huge mess.  Nobody can move.  Eventually the police arrived and I assume they sorted it out, after solving a dispute between a car and a Fidelity Guard van whose noses were almost touching, each refusing to move for the other one.  I left after getting a few photos - not ideal ones, in the dark - with my cell phone's camera.



A bit blurred, but you can make out the green van with Fidelity on the side.





Some cars had opened their doors.  The drivers had to explain to those who didn't have right of way how they should drive.

Will Africa ever learn?

Comments

Posted by  
on July 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Still better than the hellhole that is Gauteng! Aahhh good ol' Mthatha.

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Posted by Hannes  
on July 30, 2007, 10:35 am
The Fidelity guards should’ve resolved the situation swiftly in a professional manner as they carry automatic firearms, which must surely give them the ‘right of way’ at every turn….

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