Pretoria - Embattled power utility Eskom has compounded motorists’ worries with the introduction of stage 4 and stage 6 load shedding, which takes away the privilege of having working traffic lights on South Africa’s heavily congested roads.
Unprecedented fuel prices, with threats of impending increases amidst biting economic meltdown have left many motorists on the edge. Impatience, arguments over right of way are the order of the day during the load shedding bouts and for brothers Namanje, 32, and Simon, 30 Mahlangu, street vendors along January Masilela Drive in Pretoria East, “we had to assist with controlling the traffic before someone got killed in the physical fights over right of way”.
Namanje told IOL that although he is not a motorist, he observed the panic and frustration of motorists during the daily load shedding, which often resulted in verbal altercations, road rage incidents and the physical exchange of blows.
“We have worked and lived along this road for several years now, selling different merchandise. At this junction where January Masilela meets Glenwood Road, we saw countless fights between motorists during the power cuts and we decided to help. We were afraid someone would be killed over the right of way,” Namanje said.
“Besides the fights, there is chaos on January Masilele Drive when there are power cuts in the morning or afternoon peak. Motorists just cannot manage and they get very frustrated. There were several accidents happening so I teamed up with Simon and we started controlling the traffic at this big intersection. You can see that the motorists appreciate our service.”
The Mahlangu brothers, who came to Pretoria around five years ago seeking opportunity, have gained popularity with motorists, with some drivers bringing them bags of foodstuffs. Other motorists showed appreciation by waving and hooting, while others lowered their windows and dished out some money.
“When you are simply begging or selling by the intersection, the motorists do not really look at you. But when you are assisting in a way, they appreciate what you are doing. We are grateful for what the motorists in Pretoria East do; they have been kind to us, said Namanje as he settled on the roadside after a two-hour intensive session of controlling traffic.
The shift ends when power is restored, and Namanje rolls his white gloves, which help with visibility while walking up and down the busy intersection making hand signals.
“We want work. We want support from the authorities. Yes, we are not trained, but if the Tshwane Metro Police can hear us, we are really helping on this side. We would be happy to be traffic controllers like those people we see supported by OUTsurance. We need jobs like that,” said Namanje.
However, the Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD) strongly discourages community members from controlling traffic because of the high risks of being run over by vehicles.
TMPD spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba the proliferation of the untrained traffic controllers was a cause for concern as it endangered their lives and must be stopped.
“Yes, as TMPD we are aware about members of the community who at times jump into busy intersections and try to control traffic. We are concern about this behaviour and we should mention that it should stop immediately, reason being that anyone who controls traffic should have undertaken training in this regard and after completion they must be issued with a compliance certificate,” said Mahamba.
“Second one is they are not only posing as danger to themselves but to motorists as well by causing accidents. Lastly, when you are trained, you know how to stop vehicles and the distance you should give for motorists to apply brakes. For instance, when stopping a truck, you should give more time and space to stop because trucks take longer to stop. If you were not trained, you might not be aware of such dynamics.”
He said the TMPD appreciates partnership with community members, “However, we advise them to not control traffic but report faulty lights and those which are out of order” to authorities.
Mahamba said the metro police unit cannot deploy officers to every intersection and motorists must obey the law and treat intersections as compulsory stops when there is no electricity.
“We know the challenges of load shedding currently, and as TMPD and other law enforcement agencies we will assist where we can. If we can't be in all points, we request motorists to use those intersections as four-way stops as determined by Road Traffic Act 96 of 1996,” said Mahamba.
On the other hand, the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) discouraged motorists from giving homeless people money as an incentive to control traffic at busy intersections.
“This encourages them to continue, and even go to the extent of tampering with traffic lights with the intention of making money. It further endangers the lives of the homeless individuals as they may be run over by vehicles,” said JMPD spokesperson Xolani Fihla.
“Officers cannot be at every corner and every intersection, so with the assistance of traffic free flow sponsored by OUTsurance main arterials, heavily congested and major routes will be prioritised. Officers have also been tasked to monitor areas and intersections outside the peak hours, as we've received numerous complaints regarding homeless people controlling traffic.”
Eskom has announced that load shedding Stage 6 will again be implemented from 4pm until 10pm Wednesday evening.