Johannesburg - A surprise snowfall across Joburg and extreme weather across the country left some whooping in excitement, some stranded in snow-locked areas and others huddled under snow-capped trees wondering whether they would survive the night.
It began snowing from about 8am, and by lunchtime there were reports of light to steady falls in the Joburg city centre, Sandton, Alberton, Kensington, the Vaal, Midrand, Soweto, and in the Underberg and Giants Castle in KwaZulu-Natal.
The SA Weather Service said eight of the nine provinces – all but Limpopo – had snow.
The N3 at Van Reenen’s Pass between Harrismith and the Tugela toll plaza was closed and reopened several times during the day, but by on Tuesday night, authorities were preventing motorists heading from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal from passing through Harrismith.
The main telltale sign that Joburg was not a city that received snow regularly were the excited workers who dashed from their office blocks to take pictures and laugh and play.
Taxis hooted as they drove past, but were slower than usual, acting cautiously on the icy roads.
A man taking pictures of snow-covered cars in the CBD said it was the very first time he had seen snow. “It’s beautiful. That’s why we are so keen on taking pictures,” Elliot Mofokeng enthused.
In Commissioner Street, a group of smokers huddled outside an office building, cigarettes clutched between their fingers.
“It’s nice. I hope it’s just for today. I’m not able to smoke properly,” one said.
Similar scenes played out in other areas, with Facebook and Twitter reflecting little else.
However, there were people who were not happy to see the snow.
In Beyers Naudé Square, a man huddled under a tree. He was armed with a blanket and a few of his possessions.
Mkhululi Ncube and Malunda (not his real name) had a hard time fighting the cold.
“I’ll be right here under this tree tonight,” said Malunda, 33. He has been in Joburg for two years and hasn’t been able to find a job.
Ncube, 34, is from Zimbabwe, and together they have been collecting bottles, boxes and newspapers over the years.
The shelter they usually go to is on the corner of Jeppe and Joubert streets, but they wouldn’t be sleeping there on Tuesday night.
“It costs R15 a night to sleep there and take a bath, but our fingers were frozen and too sore to find anything to collect,” said Malunda.
Sanele* (not her real name), 23, who was to sleep in a passageway on Plein Street, said: “I don’t think we will all make it alive tomorrow.”
On Tuesday night, the electricity supply system was under pressure and at least 12 areas around Joburg had power outages. It was unclear whether these were because of the icy weather or maintenance issues.
The adverse weather also affected the roads.
At Harrismith, some truckers prepared to spend the night in the cabs of their vehicles while other motorists booked into bed-and-breakfasts in the town.
Arrive Alive spokesman Tshepo Machaea said a number of roads in the Eastern Cape had been closed because of significant snowfall.
In the Free State, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, operated by SA National Parks, had its heaviest snowfalls in six years.
Heavy snowfalls caused the closure of several border posts between SA and Lesotho in the Free State and the Eastern Cape, the National Border Operational Committee said.