Driving in South Africa

There are different rules of the road in different parts of the world. When you’re driving in Africa, you know it.

Here are a few pointers if you find yourself in the farthest reach of the Southern Hemisphere on a road trip.

1) Overtaking

If you are driving on a single lane road and the car behind you is in a hurry, it’s standard practice to pull across onto the shoulder to let said car pass. After they overtake you, they will blink their hazard lights at you to say “thanks!” Very civilized.


2) Animals

If an oncoming vehicle flashes its lights at you, look around. They might be telling you to look out for the cow that is about the cross the road. (Or the goat, tortoise, or baboons.)

cows in road_s

3) Directions

When asking directions accept that nobody has a clue about compass points. Everything is described by landmark, and people also rarely know the names of the roads. A lot of driving in Africa is by feel, so don’t be surprised when someone tells you to “turn left at the first robot, then drive straight until you get to the big tree. Turn right at the tree and keep on going until you see a purple sign with a picture of a crocodile on it. If you pass the Pick ‘n Pay you’ve gone too far.”

4) Robots

Speaking of robots, when asking directions, if someone tells you to turn left at the robot, do not expect to see a space-aged robotic man standing on the side of the road. Robot is simply the term South Africans use for traffic lights. Go figure.


5) Farm stalls

While in North America, we have to accept that on long drives there is no great option for road snacks unless we get off the highway and drive into a town, in South Africa, there are farm stalls dotted along the highways. These are usually charming, picturesque farmhouses where you can buy home-made cakes, biltong and preserves, among other things, and many of them have restaurants on site where you can get delicious toasted sandwiches and other moreish snacks. Beats a McDonald’s any day. (Plus, they sometimes have swing sets and other fun contraptions for the kiddies to play on!)

Affie Plaas

6) Strange road signs

If you see a road sign with a picture of a big tree on it, there is a shaded roadside stop ahead. There will be picnic tables and hopefully trees tall enough to give shade. If not, drive ahead to the next one. It’s too bloody hot to sit out in the sun.  Other fun signs include those of various african animals and ones telling you to keep driving because of hi-jacking probability.

Baboon sign

7) Tipping

When buying petrol (gas) it is always full service. You must tip your pump jockey a few rand, more if they wash your windscreen. Also, if you park your car just about anywhere, it is likely they there will be a man wearing a neon yellow vest who will attempt to direct you into your spot. You must give this man a couple of rand to keep an eye on your car. Do not tip at your own peril.

Parking Attendant

8) Theft

If you go back to where your car was supposed to be parked and it is not there, don’t think that you’ve gone crazy and forgotten where you parked. More likely than not, it’s been stolen. For this reason, you should buy insurance, and never leave anything valuable anywhere visible inside your car. Even if your car isn’t stolen, a smashed window for a teddy bear is barely worth it.

Car Theft

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