South Africa has some 'splainin' to do

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:10 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG Ė It is 16 days into the 2010 World Cup adventure and some things have become self-evident.

The first is that the people of South Africa are marvelous, friendly individuals who will go out of their way to help you if they can.

The second thing is there are a whack of things you see that you donít understand and probably will never be properly explained.

And if you do get an explanation, it might change depending on who you talk to or what part of the country you are in.

Letís start with this Ė if you drive, you need to know about the robots. Thatís what South Africans call traffic lights.

Why?

No one is quite sure. Some say itís because the lights were the first form of robotic equipment in South Africa. The other explanation is that the lights took the place of the traffic police and since the lights didnít move, they became robots.

One other thing about robots: they are more of a guide than a hard and fast rule. When there is no traffic, especially at night, red means slow down. You donít stop because that makes you harder to hit.

And if you happen to be driving and see a rather large grass fire, donít panic.

Grass fires appear indigenous to South Africa. You can find them anywhere grass grows.

No one seems very bothered by it. You drive along, see a wall of flame, ignore everything that you would normally make you scream, and continue through the smoke and ash.

The fires are somewhat disconcerting, though, when you are traveling along a highway and walls of flames are five feet from the asphalt, 20 feet from telephone poles and 100 feet from businesses.

ďWe do it for safety purposes, otherwise the grass continues to grow and then when it burns itís really dangerous,Ē said one South African. ďWhen it burns, the new grass grows. Itís perfectly safe.Ē

One night, on a return journey from the city of Nelspruit (about four hours from Johannesburg), eight grass fires were burning. None was watching over the fire.

As for the drivers, what would probably cause a 10-kilometre backup in North America didnít merit a backward glance.

Soweto, the famous township in Johannesburg, proved eye-popping. People walking along the street hold up four fingers pointing outward, two to the left, maybe one straight down.

It is the traditional method of hailing minibuses, which are really minicabs. Each signal indicates a location the resident wants to go. If the minibus is going to that location, it stops to pick up the traveler.

Interesting, except that minibus business is so lucrative violence is on the increase as gangs seek to gain control of the big profit maker.

(By the way, the middle-finger signal remains the same in any country.)

Cities should actually adopt the parking system used in the suburbs of major cities.

Each street has a parking person who wears a green vest. The PPWP (parking person without personality) points you to where you can park. Itís obvious these parking aficionados know where everyone is and what they are doing because they park you in driveways, in front of driveways and on sidewalks.

No idea how they get the job. Some people say they are hired by businesses in the area for safety purposes, some of them simply take up the business of parking cars on their own.

The parkers watch your car in your absence. When you come out you pay, youíll fork over two to five rand . . . about 60 cents.

Itís been quite the education over the last 16 days. With another 19 to go, we may eventually find out whoís starting those fires.


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