traffic cone

We’ve all met the guys who can’t wait to pop these into your path. Image: Adobe Stock

Holiday time is urban guerrilla time on South Africa’s roads

Drivers have long been targets of a ‘third force’ intent on making travelling challenging. Little can be done to counter them, but being forewarned is being forearmed.

traffic cone

We’ve all met the guys who can’t wait to pop these into your path. Image: Adobe Stock

Urban guerrillas have been waging a low-level civil war in South Africa for years. The trouble is that, because their target is motorists, we have never noticed this insidious, hidden form of guerilla warfare.

As with most para-military units, these people operate by stealth and — if in the open — don cunning disguises that allow them to blend in with the background so they can perpetrate their brand of crimes against the unsuspecting driver.

Like most elite units, these people adopt ‘descriptors’ which are used to hide their identities, but describe their functions in their teams.

Beware of these urban guerrillas:

The Highwayman

speed trap
‘The Highwayman’ has the potential to ruin any holiday. Image: Adobe Stock

Usually dressed in traditional khaki with maybe a flash of blue around the cap and shoulders, this is the urban guerilla who needs to be most feared. Most have sagging gun belts around their middles (they often sag because of their paunches that tend to be attracted by gravity and are a feature of this breed). 

The Highwayman is adept at hiding on the sides of roads and highways — usually concealed in bushes — and triggering off his speed-tracking device as you approach. He has the potential to ruin your holiday.

The Vulture

The vulture is continually circling. Like his namesake, when he sees something interesting, he swoops down and clutches his prey when it is most vulnerable. He is also known in extreme cases to be aggressive to others of his kind who get to a site after he has arrived. 

He has an uncanny ability to identify where road casualties will occur. He can be seen on his own or chatting with others of his kind in bakkies that sport V8 engines and tow booms with hooks that sink into an unfortunate car and just won’t let go.

The only thing that stops him in his tracks is the sound of crinklies being removed from a wallet. The sophisticated vultures, becoming more prevalent, now carry point of sale machines with them.

Our advice is that if you are lucky enough to spot a vulture while he is stationary that you slow down immediately. If you see one or more on the move, get out of the way fast — never get in the way of these birds when they have found prey.

The Blocker

overloaded old car
‘The blocker’ is especially adept at bringing traffic to a halt when he attempts to pass another blocker. Image: Adobe Stock

This guerilla emerges on our highways around public holidays, long weekends and peak holiday periods. He is particularly cunning because he looks, well, slow and helpless. This is because he is usually driving an ancient, smoke-spewing Toyota Hilux or Nissan Hardbody that defies the laws of car design. 

Headlights shine into the heavens because the “bak” is carrying a 12-metre high stack of goodies that vary from plastic buckets and suitcases to bicycles and even the occasional granny strapped into a chair. Designed as two-seaters (three at a squeeze) these machines have been known to carry eight or more passengers (granny makes nine).

The professional blocker is often carrying a similar load (to ensure that the whole road train is as aerodynamic as possible) in a unique Venter trailer. Specially designed for their durability, these trailers are characterised by wheels that are splayed outwards (think of a giraffe at a waterhole) and have axles that seem to be able to bend with ease.

Moving at night (so as not to intrude on the shut-eye of the highwaymen) the blocker is adept at bringing traffic to a halt when he attempts to pass another blocker. Many litter the upside of steep hills when something (usually a diff, prop shaft, radiator or axle) gives up the uneven battle. This manoeuvre (the long-term blocker) can add hours to any holiday journey.

The Watchman

This guerilla is different because he enjoys sowing chaos and witnessing the mayhem he has created. Often in pairs or more significant numbers, the watchmen all stand around peering into a large hole at something.

The hole they gaze into (which can be worthy of inclusion with sites like the Grand Canyon) is usually well placed so that it disrupts traffic — something in which the watchmen delight.  The nastier type of the breed can add one or two heavy-duty trucks that are parked at odd angles and intrude into open traffic lanes.

The Stroller

This soldier is a master at deploying those fluorescent orange cones that strike fear into the hearts of drivers. This is because they tend to take on an ever-increasing curve as they are deployed and can end up totally blocking a lane. To rub in the effectiveness of his trade, this sly operator will then push a broom along a stretch of highway, or sit painting a  small section of Armco barrier while protected by a kilometre-long section of cones.

As a group, strollers enjoy sitting on a blocked highway while they boil up water on a gas cylinder and sup delicately at jam tins full of tea.

The Shrapnel Launcher

We’ve all landed up behind trucks like these that lose bits of load along the way. Image: Adobe Stock

This guerrilla usually hides in the cab of giant trucks and pretends to be oblivious of his crimes (who in their right minds would try to stop him anyway? Hyundai i10 versus 16-wheeler, not likely).

This spreader of destruction delights in sending bricks, sand, metal — in fact, anything that should be secured but isn’t, flying across highways and cutting into paintwork, windscreens and tyres. Most have lucrative second incomes from panel beaters and auto shops in the regions in which they operate.

The Saboteur

This expert specialises in setting booby traps for the unwary. Working closely with the watchers, he springs into action when a hole is filled in and drivers begin to celebrate. 

Beware, the saboteur leaves a strip of new black tar across the road so that the repair appears to be complete. However, he has left a trench that is not deep enough to be easily spotted, but can damage those beautiful rims and tear holes in expensive low-profile tyres.

The Obscurer

Disguised as a well-meaning, happy petrol attendant, this operator’s particular skill is wiping an oil-filled, nasty rag across windscreens while he “washes” them. His hidden tactic is exposed only when a windscreen gets covered in bugs, and the windscreen washer is activated, or if it starts to rain.

What can be done to fight back? Nothing. But, being more aware means being able to take the appropriate evasive action and avoiding potential conflict. Defeating the highwaymen is easy. Stick to the speed limit and smile as you see the frustrated faces and cruise on by.