The crush of lawyers, journalists and spectators expected at Oscar Pistorius’s trial, due to start this morning, will be overshadowed by the chaos in the traffic outside the venue – the North Gauteng High Court. A number of streets have been closed in Pretoria’s central city to allow for the construction of the A Re Yeng bus service, otherwise known as the bus rapid transport (BRT) system.
Johannesburg motorists endured a similar development several years ago.
Now work has started in Pretoria in Paul Kruger Street between Boom and Madiba streets and motorists have been advised to stay clear of the area. Unfortunately the court is situated on the corner of Paul Kruger and Madiba streets. So journalists and others will have to park at a distance to avoid spending hours in the gridlocked surrounding roads.
Pretoria’s high court has been the scene of many famous trials. It made headlines in 1963 and 1964 when Nelson Mandela and other ANC luminaries were charged with sabotage in what was known as the Rivonia Trial, and at the time of the trial of 20 Boeremag members charged with high treason, which lasted almost a decade ending last year. It was the first treason trial of the new South Africa.
For both events the court was packed – but on those occasions it was not surrounded by roadworks to complicate the lives of those attending.
News that the Pistorius trial will be partially televised may cut down on the number of casual spectators who plan to come simply for the drama of the occasion. But family and friends of Pistorius and his murdered girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, will no doubt want to be in the courtroom. And lawyers, court officials and journalists will have to be there for the complete proceedings.
For them, the Gautrain could be a partial solution because it would reduce the distance to be travelled through the city. But commuters will still have to get from the station to the court by Gaubus or taxi. Though the distance is short the journey could be long.
The trial of the high-achieving blade runner, which has attracted journalists around the world, will give visitors insight into one of South Africa’s chronic problems: traffic congestion. Traffic gridlock due to construction on the roads is not a South African phenomenon. All cities have the same problem. Transport upgrades are designed to make life easier and eventually they do. But we have to live with the misery during the transition.
The traffic back-ups in Pretoria will continue long after the Pistorius trial has ended, later this month. The roadworks are scheduled to be completed in that area only by April. And, if previous experience is any gauge, the work could take longer.
Meanwhile the situation is likely to trigger multiple cases of road rage which, based on previous experiences, could have violent and tragic consequences.
More irritating for motorists than construction work are road closures for what many see as frivolous reasons. These include the recent shooting of a film in central Johannesburg, closing crucial through roads, and the arrival or departure of important persons with their blue-light cavalcades. President Street in Johannesburg is routinely closed for ANC meetings at Luthuli House.
Traffic congestion has economic costs in terms of lost productivity and social costs in terms of frustration and rage. Somewhere sometime someone will devise a smart system to avoid congestion in the cities of the future and on the roads that connect them.