Like many South Africans, I have a pretty significant commute every day to work and home again.
And it occurred to me that, although South Africans are fairly used to the odd traffic light being on the blink – or now not blinking at all, thanks to Eskom – the four-way stop has almost become the norm.
The trouble with this is that the majority of South African drivers have absolutely no idea how this works and think it is an elaborate game of chicken.
The nature of South Africans might be ubuntu, but that goes out with the carbon dioxide when any South African gets behind the wheel.
The first traffic signal was installed – according to various Google accounts – outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 10 1868.
The first electric traffic light was dreamt up by a US policeman who was worried about increasing traffic volumes in 1912.
In 1914 the first one went up – and the world hasn’t looked back.
Well, the rest of the world hasn’t looked back. But we, the powerless of Mzansi, face the daily life-threatening and psychologically damaging effects of incompetence, greed and a gleeful disregard for accountability.
For the majority of commuting South Africans, the daily to and fro from work has become a hybrid of Death Race and The Hunger Games.
Gosh, mum, why can’t Eskom get the lights on? Isn’t that what they do?
Frustrated drivers, desperate to move, even if it’s just a metre, don’t care if a pedestrian has to die for that to happen.
Drivers shout at one another and hoot as if this will miraculously part the frozen river of metal and rubber – or perhaps they think it will awaken the slumbering robots at the snarled-up intersection.
Once people get to work, they don’t want to go home again.
My colleagues pack up their laptops and announce their intention to leave. Then they don’t go – they fear the traffic as if it’s the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.
In fact, it’s worse, at least after the nine circles you get somewhere – even if it is hell.
Of course, at home the problems proliferate and, as my 11-year-old said as she attached her headlamp to her head to get her daily reading done: “Gosh, mum, why can’t Eskom get the lights on? Isn’t that what they do?”
Um, anyone know the answer?
I changed the subject, as I adjusted my own headlamp, and remembered not to look anyone in the eye for fear of blinding them or being blinded in return.