Transporting South Africa

Three weeks traveling through the back end of South Africa – considered the most advanced nation on the African continent – has been an unusual journey in many ways, particularly for an Indian. My mother opened my eyes today when I was showing her some photographs of a township outside of Cape Town and explaining to her how people usually had no easy forms of transportation to reach the city or even the nearest market.

She asked me why weren’t they using scooters or motorcycles or even bicycles, just like they do in India? Good question, mom, why weren’t they using any of the alternate means of transportation like they do in India?

Is the sun? Is it the distances?  Too many other countries have the same challenges and are still full of some form of mechanized transportation. Or is it that a car is considered the only ‘best way’ to travel ? And until you can afford to buy your own, whether new or used, you’d rather walk for miles or take the alternate – minibus taxis that are unpredictable and relatively expensive?

There are the requisite recreational Harley Davidsons of course for the weekend ‘warrior’ or cute little Vespas parked prettily on a Cape Town street. But the regularly seen morass of bicycles, scooters, mopeds, motorcycles et al are missing from both the urban and rural streets of South Africa. And we drove through 1500 kilometres of the country so I hope I’m not generalizing.

Any thoughts about this odd phenomenon, particularly in a country where the price of petrol is sensitively linked to the price of most other commodities? And where a significant proportion of the population is either unemployed or living below the poverty line?

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