We all know that the South African trucking industry is facing a serious driver shortage so Patrick O’Leary decides to put himself in the shoes of an overseas driver who is checking out the country with a view to immigrating and getting a job as a truck driver. What does it look like to him?
Our visiting driver decides to start his exploration trip in the scenic province of Mpumalanga where he is told he will drive some extremely attractive routes. As he’s merrily driving along, he comes across some used trucks with ‘˜For Sale’ signs on them (1).
“Yikes, I’ve heard that the average age of the truck park is around 13 years but is that what I’m going to be sharing the roads with,’ he thinks as he drives past. Oh well, the trucks might be a bit shagged but the countryside is beautiful – and the people are just so nice.
Having now been driving for a few hours, he decides its time to find a spot to pull over and take a break. He passes a sign which welcomes him to the Cultural Heartland of South Africa, Mpumalanga (2).
“I’ll pull over here and breathe in some cultural air,” he thinks as he stops in open area next to the road. Just as he’s about to get out his car, he looks up and sees a sign which reads: “Heavy Vehicles Wheels Stolen’. (3) What!! He quickly changes his mind and pulls off again.
As he’s driving along the N4, he begins to relax and enjoy the ride. It’s a wonderful road, as good as, if not better than any he has experienced in Europe. “You can really feel safe on roads like this,’ he thinks. But then he comes across a sign which tells him to beware of people and cattle as there are no fences along the highway (4). Oh well, that’s not too bad. In fact, it might be quite fun having to slow down for a herd of cattle wandering across the main highway. He continues on a little way and notices another sign. He sits bolt upright as he reads it. It’s a bold warning sign saying: ‘˜Hi-Jacking Hotspot’ (5).
He looks around in panic and puts his foot down to get out of the area. Just as he’s topping 140kph, he gets confronted by a sign telling him that ‘˜Speeding is dead wrong’ (6). Well, not when you’re driving through a Hi-Jacking Hotspot he reckons and keeps his foot down.
But, it’s not long before he sees another sign warning him of ‘˜Speed Fines Ahead’ (7). “I’d better slow down,’ he thinks and does so. The slower speed enables him to look at the passing scenes as well as the names of trucks he passes. There’s a message on the door of one of them and he’s interested to see what it says.
It’s not what he expects ‘˜Driver instructed not to stop for any reason. Police, please follow truck to next truck stop or police station’ (8). “Good Grief! I wonder why,’ he thinks.
Finally, he enters the suburbs of Pretoria and stops at a robot. Being a friendly guy, he waves to some chaps loitering on the corner, wondering why they’re wearing balaclavas on a hot day like this. He then looks across the road and sees a sign saying ¨Window Tinting. Smash and Grab’ (9). He glances quickly back at the guys on the corner and jumps the robot.
He then carries on towards Hartebeespoort Dam and just when he’˜s beginning to relax again in the countryside, he sees a sign warning him that he’s again travelling through a Hi-Jacking Hotspot and will be for the next two kilometres (10).
At least this one gives him the exact distance of the Hotspot. He drove for miles after that last one looking for the sign that said ‘˜Relax china. You’re out of the Hi-Jacking Hotspot’ but never found it.
He looks at the trip-metre and prays that he can get through the next 2kms safely. He does and it’s a relief when he pulls up at a stop street just after the end of 2kms. Phew! Got through that OK. He turns left and hasn’t gone more than 50m when he sees another sign ‘˜Hi- Jacking Hotspot – For 6kms’ (11). Arrgh No! But I’ve just left a 2km Hi-Jacking Hotspot he shouts in frustration.
Not 30m further on, he sees another sign warning him that the speed limit is 100kph and that speed cameras are positioned on this road (12). So, if he puts his foot down during the next 6 kms to get out of the Hi Jacking Hotspot, he’s going to get a camera fine for speeding. “OK, we’ll go at the 100kph and hold thumbs,’ he decides.
Not further than 80m on, he sees another sign half leaning over in the bush warning him that there are potholes – ‘˜slaggate’ – along this road (13). OK, so now he’s travelling in a Hi-Jacking Hotspot on a road with potholes and can only travel at 100kph.
Just as he’s thinking that it can’t get any worse than this, he is confronted by another sign. Good grief! He can’t believe it but he is now being told to watch out for galloping herds of Kudu jumping out from the bush and smashing into his windscreen (14).
He imagines the scene. At the same time as he hits a pothole and his tyre bursts, a Kudu jumps through his windscreen and lands on his lap. Then, as he’s trying to unhook the horns of the kudu from his steering wheel, a guy walks up to his window, points a gun at his head and says: “Hijack’.
“No,’ he decides there and then, “this is not the place for me to drive trucks. I’m out of here.’
He drives on at 100kph nervously looking out for potholes, jumping kudus and hijackers until he gets to a small shop. He desperately needs some water to wet his dry mouth and pulls up next to a car parked outside the cafe. As he steps out, he looks into the car and there, on the back seat, is a vicious looking snake (15).
It’s a South African anti-theft device but he doesn’t know it’s a plastic one. If he had any doubts, that snake put those doubts to rest. He buys a bottle of water, gets into his car and heads straight for OR Tambo Airport to catch the first plane home.
As he drives along, his decision to leave is further endorsed when he comes up behind another truck with a sign reading: “This vehicle will not stop after dark but will proceed to the next police station to authenticate the
identity of the person attempting to stop it.’ (16). This was a similar message to the one he read on that other truck. And then he remembered’¦
Having a drink in the pub with some locals before he set out on his trip, he was warned of the Blue Light brigade ,
criminals who used official police cars and uniforms to hijack trucks. That’s why those signs are on the trucks. Noone , not even the cops – can be trusted on South Africa’s roads.
He shakes his head thinking: “How can any truck driver operate in such a dangerous climate. South Africa may well need truck drivers but I’m not going to be one of them.’ He’s at peace with his decision to leave as he follows the GPS instructions to the airport. Then, as he pulls up at a robot in Kempton Park, he looks right and there, stuck on the bridge wall, are some advertising posters. They state: “Penis Expert , Big Strong’ with the telephone number for Dr Ezra and Mama Joy (17).
He glances downwards and thinks back to when his date, Mary, laughed at him when driving back from a Soho club in the back of a London taxi. He looks again at the posters, then reaches for his pen and paper. “I’ve heard about the size of these guys in South Africa,’ he thinks as he writes down the telephone number.
When the robot changes, he smiles, does a U-turn and reaches for his cell phone. He’s staying.
All the photographs of road signs featured in this article are real, do exist and were photographed in various spots by the Editor. Although the article has a tongue-in-cheek tone, its intention is to highlight just how dangerous it is on our roads for truck drivers. Apart from having to share the roads with hundreds of unroadworthy vehicles and unlicensed drivers, they face many other dangers on a daily basis. I have travelled quite extensively around the world and never have I seen a sign warning of ‘Heavy Vehicle Wheels Stolen’ or ‘˜Hi-Jacking Hotspot’.
Certainly it does happen in other countries but not to the degree where it necessitates an official traffic warning sign. Why do we have to live like this?