South Africa has a force of dedicated traffic-law enforcers. We don’t hold with the model of the American sheriff, who can go straight from arresting armed robbers to writing out parking tickets. Around here a real cop is unlikely to pull you over for a traffic offence, unless you are wildly firing an automatic weapon into the air at the same time.
As for the traffic specialist, we not entirely sure what they do all day long, but here’s a hint: an ancient Afrikaans radio drama featured a character who would refer to traffic officers exclusively as “die Ridders van die Skadubome, which translates as “the (knightly) Order of the Shady Trees”. Most South Africans just refer to them as “speedcops”, because when ever so rarely spotted in the wild they are invariably manning radar speed traps. Mundane tasks, such as directing traffic when traffic lights fail at a major intersection during rush hour, are apparently beneath their dignity. And the danger of enforcing such silly rules as driving on the right side of the road (which, like all civilised countries, is the the left side of the road) among the drivers of minibus taxis, that is clearly beyond their pay grade.
So basically, don’t fret. You can do just about anything you like in your hot rented wheels. “No U-Turn” signs are for decorative purposes only, you can overtake wherever you see fit and posted speed limits are more of a suggestion than a rule. There are certain places infected with fixed-position speed traps, such as the stretch of highway between Cape Town city and the Cape Town International Airport. However, these will only get you slapped with a fine of a couple of hundred rand, which your rental company will happily settle on your behalf in return for a small handling fee.
This also holds for street parking. Especially in Cape Town and Johannesburg you will find that some popular restaurant-rich areas have inadequate parking. At night, in these areas, little things like no-parking signs and yellow lines are casually ignored, and nobody cares. As long as you aren’t actually blocking traffic from flowing at all, and you aren’t preventing another car from exiting, you can park pretty much where you please. The odds that you’ll get busted are miniscule.
Seeing this kind of behaviour by the locals often leads to over-confidence among first-time visitors – and that can be a fatal mistake. If you take this casual attitude within the walls of a private parkade at a mall, airport or stadium, you will very soon pay the price.
As tourists elsewhere have learned, this beast is not unique to SA. Wheel clamps in (from top left) Amsterdam, Southampton, Chicago and Florence. Images by , , Wesha and , .
Just about all of the parking you use in South Africa will be private, even though the outdoor areas at shopping malls can often be free. By stark contrast to government traffic enforcers, the guardians of these private patches are a fierce, watchful and vengeful race. They glory in your anguish, and their favourite instrument of pain is the wheel clamp. Park anywhere outside of a designated parking spot, or dare to enter the hallowed ground of a parking bay reserved for the disabled, and brightly-coloured jaws of immobility will swiftly be attached to your rental.
That kind of thing can seriously ruin your day. The whole point of the wheel clamp is that its wielder need not hang around to await your return. You could well spend hours tracking down the correct official and negotiating your vehicle’s release. This will entail grovelling and the payment of a fine considerably more steep than that for breaking the speed limit on a national highway. Try to remove the clamp yourself instead and you face arrest for damage to property.
Take our word for it; you are better off spending the time to find a legitimate parking bay. The guardians of parking do not mess about.