Living in Johannesburg does have some advantages. You can buy milk and a pie at 3am in the morning. The traffic is never, ever dull – there is always a traffic light out somewhere, an accident can cause a hold-up, and you can even be entertained by a live boxing match between the taxi driver and that big guy in a small half-ton bakkie. The nightlife is vibrant, the shopping opportunities countless.
JHB’s road infrastructure also supports a myriad of small business enterprises, and other such matters. In fact, busy intersections in the city are very much like micro communities.
Traditionally you have a lady and her sibling(s) begging for money and/or food. You have a person that is making a half-decent attempt at surviving with some self respect who is trying to sell you a “homeless” newspaper. Big intersections also come standard with “flyer persons”, who hand out advertisements that are printed on a sheet of paper. Sometimes you get a gift like a peppermint sweet in the deal too. Newspaper salespersons are also present at bigger crossings.
A more recent addition is the menace of… the windscreen wipers. These scruffy-looking gentlemen are armed with 500ml Coke bottle, supposedly filled with soap water, and a windscreen squeegee. They don’t ask whether you want your car’s windscreen cleaned – they just start spraying the soapy stuff and begin wiping. They are aggressive by nature, and most motorists now counter this by activating the vehicle’s windscreen wipers to make the windscreen gentlemen go away.
Nowadays you also get the case of the “windscreen chippers”. These men walk up and down the waiting lines of cars, checking windscreens for any damage. If they do pick up a problem, they attempt to take down your name so that a company representative can phone you later to provide you with a new windscreen. Maybe I’m being silly, but I don’t want people to take down my name while I wait at a traffic light, no matter the reason. If I want the windscreen fixed, I’ll have it fixed.
And then we get to the dear Metro Police officers. Most of the poor officers seem to suffer from schizophrenic personalities because they either hide away from public eye behind bushes and a speed trapping device, or they set up a roadblock at the most impracticable, most annoying, the most inconvenient and the most in-our-face venues. And it’s normally on very busy roads too.
But let’s move along to the highways, and let’s best not mention the joke that is the new toll road system. Let’s just talk driving, cars and the road. The N1 highway around the Sandton area is actually a highly advanced vehicle testing facility, created by some visionary engineer that probably works for Toyota. The road surface of this “new” highway is so uneven that any vehicle that is used on this road on a daily basis will need a rugged and hardy suspension to be able to last the distance.
You also need an amazing brake system. Driving along at a steady 120km/h in the right-hand lane often results in an emergency brake test as some motorist up ahead, firmly believing that you get bonus points when you drive at 80km/h through a 120km/h speed trap, had slammed on the brakes, causing a ripple effect down the line of cars.
Since we live in Africa, where it is said that only the strongest will survive, the bigger your ride the better your chances of survival seem to be too. It’s simple: Drive a small and old Renault 5, and everyone wants to drive over you, and not around you.
Drive a Porsche Cayenne or a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Prado and other motorists are more likely to leave you alone, and not pick a fight. It’s weird, but it is true. Size does seem to matter.
A more recent addition to our roads is the phenomenon of… the pothole. Until a few years ago potholes were mostly limited to small rural towns, run by pathetic town councils. Now the pothole has become part of JHB’s streets too.
So you need a combination of excellent brakes, a hardy suspension, awesome reactions and accident avoidance skills, and preferably some high profile, mud terrain 4×4 tyres with tough sidewalls that are more resilient against damage.
To survive JHB’s streets you also need lots of horsepower. Yes, really. The so-called blue light brigade craze has rapidly caught on amongst government and state officials in recent times. So, on any road, you need a fast and nippy machine to get out of the way of the official “blue lighter” before you run the risk of aggravating said official, and end up being sworn at, shot at or jailed.
Now the question beckons: What is the best vehicle for safely and happily negotiating JHB’s besieged roads? Is it something small and economical, and do you just maintain an apathetic attitude on the roads? Like a cool Kia Picanto, VW Golf or Toyota Yaris?
Or do you prefer something fast, furious and with low-profile tyres, and do you have super-natural reflexes so that you can dodge the potholes? Like a Porsche GT3, Ferrari F430 or even a BMW M3?
Maybe you prefer an SUV, or a double cab bakkie? Or are you a middle-of-the-road sedan driver, who minds his or her own business and don’t give a hoot about other motorists’ on-road antics?
Or do you fall in a different category?
Well I do, I reckon. That’s because I don’t want a hatch, a supercar, an SUV, a double cab, a sedan, a truck or a minibus. You see, I just want, well… I actually want just two things.
For driving around in my suburb I want the Indian-made Anti-Terrorist Assault Cart (Atac). This electrically powered golf cart on steroids weighs in at 500kg, its top speed is 25km/h, and it can ride along for six hours on one battery charge. It costs just, er, R400 000 – which seems a lot for a golf cart that can withstand a grenade and small arms attack. Anyway, those aggressive windscreen wiper persons at intersections will not be pleased when you rock up in an Atac.
For longer distances I will have to go for… the VW Touareg “Military edition”, as seen in Germany. This green machine is not only armoured against small arms fire, it also comes with a big machine gun on the roof, operated via remote control inside the cabin. The Touareg is powered by VW’s three-litre V6 turbodiesel engine, and it can apparently reach 160km/h while still being relatively economical too. This Touareg is good looking, modern, safe, cool and every so slightly intimidating. I reckon this is just the ticket for safely and sanely negotiating JHB’s streets.
Hear ye, hear ye!
What do you think? What is the best (and maybe slightly more realistic than an armoured car with a proverbial cannon on the roof) motoring option for Johannesburg, or any other major city in SA for that matter?