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Academic Motorworld: Driving in South Africa

6w ago

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Now it is important to note that I am a born and bred South African, who should be relatively capable of commenting on South African motoring from first-hand experience. And this isn’t just an isolated opinion coming from a tiny suburb in a tiny province either. With an eventful upbringing, brings the experience of multiple cities, provinces and all the roads in between.

The N3: Jo'burg to Durban

For the first few years, I grew up in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg, however foggy memory and a naïve outlook on the world of motoring would not make for informative journalism/blogging. I moved to the East Coast of South Africa, specifically KZN, Durban in 2002, yet one of my parental figures remained in Gauteng, Johannesburg. This meant tons of travelling to and from these two cities, and the 600 odd kilometers between them. The road from inland to the East Coast, namely the N3, has vast amounts of flat, lackluster scenery for the inland part of the trip, but as the coast gets closer, the roads become progressively more winding, with lush green scenery. Unfortunately, in recent years average speed prosecution and temporary traffic cameras (sneaky policemen hiding in bushes with cameras), have turned this road into a safer, yet more dull experience.

Here's some photos of mine from a while back, driving from the Durban (East Coast), into Johannesburg (Inland).

Hardcore Traffic:

Moving back inland to Johannesburg to study, back in 2013, I really started getting a feel for South African roads, and Johannesburg’s brutual traffic jams. Travelling into the inner city almost guarantees some form of traffic, with peak hours leading to numb clutch-operating feet, severe discomfort and repeating playlists. In a recent “Businesstech” article (March 2015), they listed South African cities with the worst traffic jams. Johannesburg placed third, being mildly better than Pretoria and Cape Town. Thus, proving my stresses about Johannesburg traffic jams are not exaggerations, and it is important to note both my Peugeot 206, and BMW E36 316i had multiple instances of overheating. The combination of warm climate and stop-start traffic can really be a car killer, forcing waterpumps, thermostats and fans to work overtime.

Typical major city traffic in South Africa. (

To put South Africa’s traffic struggles into a global perspective, the same Businesstech article stated that Cape Town was ranked as the 23rd most congested city in the world out of 165 cities, with Pretoria and Johannesburg also featuring on this index, being placed 36th and 42nd respectively.

We drive on the right side of the road here.

Nelson Mandela Bay:

Earlier this year, a transfer from one company to another meant a relocation to the Eastern Cape, residing in the rather quant city of Port Elizabeth. Otherwise known as the "windy city", "friendly city" or "Nelson Mandela Bay". To put the population difference into perspective, Gauteng province (which Johannesburg falls under) has roughly 12 million people over the surface area of 18 000 km². Comparatively, the Eastern Cape has roughly 6.5 million people over 169 000 km². When doing some crude math sums, it means that Gauteng has nearly twice the population in 10% of the area (provided my sums and sources are correct).

So, what makes my 80Km daily commute uniquely South African?

The occassional bit of wildlife:

Certain sections of my daily commute can be described as more “rural”, which increases the likelihood of crossing paths with cattle herders, attempting to keep their grazing cows off the road. Sometimes these cows do feel the need to act out and flaunt it on our tarmac. Timed poorly, these casual cow-flaunts give you the opportunity to see whether or not your ABS is working. It’s like South Africa’s very own anti-drowsiness warning system. Goats make the occasional appearance too, with one being within trotting distance from my apartment, sighted grazing on a traffic circle a couple weeks back.

A surprising amount of courtesy:

Given that my work commute as long sections of single lane freeways, slower travelling cars and most trucks typically pull into the yellow-lined emergency lanes when a faster moving vehicle approaches. By now, regular drivers of this route are probably accustomed to a tiny black spec (otherwise known as the Panda 100HP) in their rearview mirror, travelling significantly quicker than they are.

Road-hopping:

What seems to be a prominent issue with South African roads is poor road quality and potholes. In a normal passenger car there are certain sections of my commute that have unwelcome bumps, inconsistent surfaces and the occasional pothole. Needless to say, my 100Hp suffers some unbearable undulations and bouncing.

Taxi-Drivers and their unpredictability:

What would probably be universally known as Minibus drivers, have an infamous reputation for reckless driving, violent road-rage, thumping music and a general disregard for the rules of the road. Speaking first hand, their reputation is there for a reason. It’s not uncommon to find a Taxi, stopped on the side (if you’re lucky) of a busy road, waiting for passengers to disembark or come aboard. This happens without regard for other drivers, so if they’re causing a bit of a backlog, shame. Also, if there’s queuing traffic of more than 5 cars, expect a Taxi to be at the front of the queue, trying to squeeze its way in. Here's some local cartoons accurately capture South African Taxis.

“Only 5% of respondents were in any kind of lift club for school runs or work.”

Arbitrary Lift Club statistic:

This statistic came from a recent article entitled, : “8 SA auto habits revealed: 'We are what we drive but don't care about what we drive that much'”. This probably ties in with the aforementioned traffic issues, as South African motorists seem to favour solo travel, regardless of the size of their vehicle. This also relates to our pretty shocking standard of public transport, Taxi’s included.

Popular & Unpopular cars:

I figured, in order to give some further insight as to what our roads are like, it would be valuable to see what cars our roads are littered with and what cars we seldom see. Here are the following sales statistics of the 10 best-selling passenger cars (under R500k) in September 2018:

More common than the cockroach in South Africa.

Volkswagen Polo – 3 866

Volkswagen Polo Vivo – 1 976

Toyota Corolla/Auris/Quest – 1 680

Toyota Fortuner – 1 345

Toyota Yaris – 1 111

Hyundai Grand i10 – 1 049

Ford Fiesta – 837

Renault Kwid – 808

Kia Picanto – 750

Toyota Etios – 738

Our roads are certainly dominated with Volkswagen Polos, Polo Vivos, and Corollas. The Vivo, in case you aren’t aware, is essentially a previous generation Polo, which has been cost-optimised and somewhat simplified in order to be sold into a cheaper price bracket. Whilst this list only covers passenger cars, it’s important to note that is not uncommon for the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger sell even more units than the latest Polos. Here’s September’s sales statistics of the 10 best selling “bakkies”:

Equally, if not more popular than the Polo.

Toyota Hilux – 3 943

Ford Ranger – 3 016

Nissan NP200 – 1 888

Isuzu KB – 1 193

Nissan NP300/Hardbody – 812

Volkswagen Amarok – 291

Mahindra Pik-Up – 216

Toyota Land Cruiser Pick-up – 178

Nissan Navara – 166

GWM Steed – 163

As a nation, we have an insanely large “bakkie”/pick-up fan-base. We are also major performance enthusiasts, with roughly 50% of the VW Golfs sold in South Africa being GTI’s, or at least that’s what I’ve heard from local auto-journalists on TV.

Speaking of the Ford Ranger, the Ford Production Plant in Silverton, Pretoria has recently invested a sizeable sum of money in order to be capable of building the beefed up Ranger “Raptor”. Given the success of the more tame Rangers, I can only imagine how berserk South African consumers will go when this is launched in early 2019.

“Ford South Africa spent around R3-billion last year upgrading its plant in Silverton so it can produce Ranger Raptors for our local market. Pegged to launch in the first quarter of 2019, the Raptor looks tailor made to be a huge hit here in South Africa, where it will add a dollop of variety to a market that has traditionally been ruled by Toyota and its ubiquitous Hilux. In terms of pricing nothing has been confirmed yet, but considering the amount of extra R&D that’s gone into the Raptor, we expect a price point of around R750k.” – Ashley Oldfield, from cars.co.za

​“The Ranger Raptor is an exciting and very important model for us, as it pioneers an entirely new dimension for the pick-up or bakkie market and represents the first Ford Performance model to be produced in South Africa, destined for export to customers throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” – Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Middle East and Africa.

The Rare Sightings:

And for the cars we seldom see on our roads…:

South Africa’s 12 worst-selling passenger cars (under R500k) of September 2018

FCA South Africa, desperate for new buyers?

Abarth 595 – 1

Toyota Prius – 1

Jeep Renegade – 2

Alfa Romeo Giulietta – 2

Kia Cerato – 2

Peugeot 308 – 2

Opel Grandland X – 5

Subaru Impreza – 5

Suzuki Grand Vitara – 5

Tata Bolt – 6

Fiat 500X – 8

Nissan NV200 – 8

Generally the more “exotic”/unconventional cars take a knock in the sales department in SA. As of late, I’ve noticed the pricier French cars to sell in dismal numbers, like the Peugeot 308 and New Renault Megane. Fiat/FCA also see their names on the “failure” list on a regular basis.

Okay, I'm done. Here's the summary:

Here’s to hoping my words have provided some selective insider info as to what South African motoring is like. From my experience, trips can be dampened by potholes, sneaky speeding cameras/policemen and ruthless taxis. But on the positive side, scenic routes and quickest routes are often one in the same (provided you drive in the more coastal regions). In terms of production, South Africa is producing more and more vehicles for both local and export markets. With large plants from industry giants such a Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz (to name a few), it seems we are making significant contributions to the global automotive landscape.

And lastly, our superbly low standard of public transport forces us into car ownership, which also increases the likelihood of unveiling our inner petrolheads, and for that I just can’t complain.

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Comments (33)
  • I need to disappoint you. Ruthless taxis aren't entirely South African invention. I live in Ukraine and almost every taxi here is ruthless. Including buses.

    10 days ago
  • You can't drive 2 km in SA without seeing at least 10 Fortuners, and 9 of them will be White!!

    1 month ago
    4 Bumps
    • Agreed! Especially around "ego" Estates, white SUV softroaders are the vehicle of choice

      1 month ago
      2 Bumps
    • Makes me laugh that the status symbol is the most common car in SA.

      1 month ago
      3 Bumps

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