I drove out to Mpumalanga last weekend for some trout fishing on a delightful estate near Lydenburg. The drive out to Lydenburg used to take you past a place called Witbank. I remember it well because it had a huge sulphurous heap of perpetually smoking toxic waste and it was a landmark on the journey east. It told you that you had left behind the barren wastelands that are Delmas and Ogies and were about to enter some countryside that had some visual merit. Well, do you know that Witbank no longer exists? I was through Middelburg and approaching Belfast before I realized that I hadn’t driven past Witbank. Had the road been re-routed perhaps for 2010 to spare visitors the horror of Witbank? No, it’s much simpler than that. They’ve renamed it eMaksomethingorother and it makes all the difference. For a start, the journey goes much faster if you’re not waiting for Witbank to appear on the horizon. But better still, since Witbank no longer officially exists other than on old maps there is absolutely no reason to ever discuss the place again. And I’m comfortable with that.
Past the toll plaza on the N4 and down the R36 towards Lydenburg the road surface becomes a bit dodgy. You can be driving along at 100km/h and suddenly a crater looms. Fortunately you can normally avoid these craters on quiet Mpumalanga roads but you can’t on the main roads of Jo’burg.
I can forgive bad road surfaces on roads in sparsely populated places like Mpumalanga but I can’t in Johannesburg where tens of thousands of people pay rates, taxes, petrol levies, fines and tolls and yet our main thoroughfares are often worse than the roads around Lydenburg. The William Nicol highway is little more than a farm track these days and after a heavy downpour some of our suburban roads are so churned up that they become impassable. I have been flirting with the idea of a mid life crisis (MLC) car. But all MLC cars have painted wheels instead of tyres. OK….that’s an absurd exaggeration but the tyres are so low profile that it looks as though a thin layer of rubber has been painted onto the wheel. That’s fine on a race track but on any of the roads around the so called world class city of Johannesburg you need at least 15cm of rubber or, better still, an iron caterpillar track. They don’t put proper tyres on expensive cars any more so what’s going to happen is that you are going to spend a lot of time at the roadside waiting for the AA. And a lot of time persuading Outsurance that the fourth damaged wheel this week really wasn’t your fault.
Just face facts. There may be plenty of car showrooms with very desirable models for sale but these are first world cars. And we now have third world roads. So the nearest I am going to get to a MLC car is the one on a Sony Playstation game and for practical use I am looking for something with large knobbly tyres and a length of railway track welded on each side of the vehicle just to nudge the taxis back into lane. Eat your heart out Mad Max.