Monday, July 26

Two Roads

As I’ve noted before on this blog, Cape Town for me is best described by looking at the two roads that feed the city and the people that live next to them. The N1, connecting the Mother City to economic heart of our country, and the N2 which travels to the East Cape and the old homelands of Ciskei and Transkei.

The city has been expanding at a rapid rate down both roads. Along the N1 the cities outlying suburbs are now closer to Paarl then they are to Cape Town. Condo style housing developments stretch as far as the eyes can see as developers feed the need for housing faster then communities can develop.

The people that travel the N1 are the middle class of South Africa. The suburbs past the cape flats; Belville, Parow and Durbanville, are jokingly referred to as the "Boerewors gordyn". (Boerewors is the traditional sausage barbecued by most South Africans, but is culturally linked to Afrikaners or Boere.)

On the N2 however, the effect of the flood of unskilled black people from the old homelands after the end of apartheid can be seen. The shanty towns have merged to form a line of shacks along the highway, from the foot of Table mountain to the outskirts of Somerset West. Some estimates have put the number of new arrivals as high as 25000 a month. With almost no skills, and most new arrivals only able to speak Xhosa, getting out of the shanty towns is a dream few will ever realize.

I have a special interest in the N2 as this is the route I drive to work on every day. I live in Cape Town and work in the Boland so I get to miss out on all the traffic and enjoy the scenery. (One of the reasons I bought the damp train car that I call my home). The N2 is separated from the shanty towns by a concrete fence and about 30 meters of grass. As the shanty towns are packed to capacity the locals, in good South African tradition, broke out bars of concrete to get access to the grass for soccer, exercising, an alternative toilet and grazing their goats and cows. And of course getting to the other side. At one bridge unemployed men also gather in the hope that someone will pick them up for a days labour. A large concrete barriers has been built in the center of the highway, but people still regularly cross the highway as it is easier than walking to the one or two pedestrian crossings.

The problem should be obvious. Put large amounts of pedestrians next to a road, along with some farm animals. Add a constant stream of cars traveling at 120 kilometers an hour and you can see the problem. It the children that make me especially nervous. There are two places next to the road where the reeds of the black river give way, forming natural swimming holes. Large numbers of kids usually cross the road here. It also explains why many people avoid the N2 like the plague. Stories of traffic police and emergency response crews refusing to work this stretch of road abound.

Imagine my happy surprise when about a month ago crews started fixing the concrete barriers, extending it in places (And closing of at least one swimming hole. Call me a miser. Id rather see those kids alive than happy). In addition, for the first time in years there is a highway patrol (two cars. But they are new and active), and the council has hired local people to act as 'road guards' that sit at the major crossing points stopping people from entering the no-mans land at the side of the highway. I’ve even seen less goats.

Its still not close to perfect. Kids still play soccer as dusk, when the roads at its busiest and the chance of you seeing them the least. People still run across the road with firewood, dodging cars. And those stupid goats still prefer the grass right next to the highway, but at least there is someone who saw the problem and is trying to help.

Is this the result of an ANC local government? If so, I'm all for it. 


Blogger Michelle said...

A while ago our local Somerset West newspaper ran a front-page article that declared the N2 the "Hell Run" (just in time for me to crank up the Ford for a trip to see my family, a once-every-few-months trek). Since then a 24 hour patrol has been instituted. Apparently. I have yet to see one on my travels from here to Cape Town though. It's a road I really hate travelling, just because of the "what if's" of running into man or beast, or having my windscreen smashed by rocks thrown,or being run off the road by road hog taxis, or... well, the options are kinda endless on that particular road. But it's either that, or take the back roads, which are definitely not safe at night for single woman and her child to travel. I love the scenery on the way - the danger I could do without.

26 July 2004 at 14:18  

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