Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “e-tolls”

Homeward bound

When we arrived at Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, Botswana, the previous night, it was dark. From the balcony we could see street lights in the distance, but had little sense how close or far away they were. When dawn came, we looked from the balcony at a spectacular view over a plain.

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

When we arrived at dusk it felt as though we were in the middle of an urban area, so we weren’t prepared for the magnificent view we saw when the sun came up.

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

We packed up and left at about 8:00, and stopped on the road below the Lentswe Lodge to take a photo of our cottage perched on the hillside up above before driving into Serowe and filling up with petrol. One of the garage attendants brought us a form for a competition to win a tractor, and I filled it it. It was just the kind of thing we would win, so I thought I’d better Google for a suitable agricultural project to donate it to, just in case we did.

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

We set off again and as we approached Palapye saw a rather large industrial conplex, and as we passed it saw that it was the Marupule Colliery, next to a power station, which we passed at 8:50, 38.4 km  from the Lentswe Lodge.

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

We drove through Palapye, and turned off to Martin’s Drift, and at 9:45, 75.6 km from Serowe, stopped at a sitplekkie to eat the packed breakfast they had given us at Lentswe Lodge – a sausage, a small carton of yogurt, two boiled eggs, a mince jaffle and an apple. I ate most of mine, and threw the carton in the bin, though there was rubbish strewn all over the ground, more outside the bin than in it. It was certainly not clean like the Namibian sitplekkies, but as it was on the right-hand side of the road, we wondered if it were not South African travellers coming through the borders who were making all the mess.

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

We reached to border at Martin’s Drift at 11:15, 158 km from Serowe, and crossed the Limpopo River back into South Africa. The Limpopo didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Okavango, or even the Boteti!

Once again, the immigration officials on the South African side were more surly and less professional than those on the Botswana side. We were also amused by signs in the toilets, welcoming people to South Africa, to give first-time visitors their first taste of South African culture and customs.

Welcome to South Africa!

Welcome to South Africa!

That sort of thing seems to be common to welcome people to a country. In 1966 I left South Africa in a hurry, to escape the clutches of the Security Police, driving through the night to cross the border with Rhodesia (as it then was) at Beit Bridge, a bit downstream from Martin’s Drift. It was just after UDI, and tension was high, but relieved when we saw the desks where one had to fill in  immigration forms, each with a neatly-printed notice with the exhortation, “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.”

Why is it that one’s first introduction to a country is so often a notice prohibiting something or other?

There were about 50 cars parked on the grass next to the parking area, covered in dust, and we wondered if they had beren confiscated as vehicles whose papers were not in order, possibly stolen, but if they were, it seemed that the real owners had made no attempt to claim them. There were also some police vans parked there, and I got the old feeling that one used to get, returning to apartheid South Africa after a visit to a neighbouring country, that one was returning from freedom to a police state. Why is that? It was much more pronounced in the 1960s or the 1980s, but why now. I know in my head that it isn’t so, but emotionally it still feels a little like it. Is it perhaps a result of the Marikana massacre?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border - stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border – stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Beyond the border post, the countryside feels different too. There are cultivated fields with irrigation sprinklers instead of natural bush. The verges are narrower, there are more wires by the side of the road. Botswana felt wild, this now feels tame and civilised. We turned off for Lepalale, formerly known as Ellis Ras, and drove through it looking for somewhere to eat, as it was 12:30 and getting on for lunch time, but saw nothing, so headed out for Vaalwater, and passed through some bush-covered hills, as wild as anything we had seen on Botswana.

Hills near Vaalwater

Hills near Vaalwater

At Vaalwater there was a restaurant that looked closed, and a Hotel-Bar, which looked more like a local watering hole than a place geared to providing meals.

Beyond Vaalwater the Waterberg mountains were beautiful, as I remembered them from passing this way with Stan Nussbaum 13 years ago. We went on into Modimolle, formerly known as Nylstroom, and had lunch at the Wimpy. They did a reasonable steak egg and chips, small enough to eat, and I knew to avoid their hamburgers at all costs.

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

We left at 2:56 pm, having covered 408 km from Serowe, and drove along the old road to Bela Bela, formerly Warmbaths. The road was quite narrow and winding, and there were obviously many, like us, driving here mainly to avoid the toll road. But this road is also far more interesting, and I always love seeing the sign to “De Nyl, s’n oog” (The Nile, its source). From Bela Bela we drove along the R101 where the speed limit was 120 km/h, so it was no slower than the freeway, though we went at about 110 most of the way to Pienaar’s River.

After that it started to get more built up, and at Temba, north of Hammanskraal, the speed limit was 60 in many places, and when we started to encounter pedestrian crossings with humps, we went on to the toll road. It cost just over R18.00, and a bit further on there was another toll gate, where we had to pay another R8.00. We had no more South African cash money, so Val used her credit card, and  so it cost about R26.00 from Hammanskraal — I wonder what we would have had to pay if we had gone on the toll road at Modimolle? But Hammanskraal is within Tshwane, and so people from there, coming to work in Pretoria, would have to pay over R50.00 every day, and they are the poorer people. There are protests against e-tolls that are about to be introduced on most of the Gauteng freeways, but these older toll roads are just as iniquitous, when a 20c per litre increase in the fuel levy would pay for the lot.

We got home at 4:30, having covered 538,7 km from Serowe, 1140.5 from Maun, 1545 from Shakawe, 1836.4 from Rundu, and  2338,4 from Odibo, which was about the furthest point we had reached from home. Over the whole trip we used 5,6 litres of fuel per 100 km.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

Nationalising mines… and roads

There has been some discussion in Twitter about nationalising mines, and today Olwethu Sipuka (@osipuka) tweeted “In the 1980’s, the Dep of Public Work could build world class roads etc. What stops us from nationalising mines?”

And my immediate thought was, What stops us from nationalising the roads?

It is true that the Department of Public Works built some excellent roads in the 1980s, but many of them were military roads, intended to get troops to “the border” as quickly as possible. They were little used by the public, and some of them are now in poor repair.

Also in the 1980s, many of the roads that were used by the public were privatised, and turned into toll roads. That was because the National Party government robbed the road fund to pay for its military adventures in Angola. Since we no longer see any need to invade Angola and destabilise our neighbours, it’s high time we nationalised the roads that were privatised back then. But instead, the ANC government is continuing the National Party’s policy of privatisation, and is converting more and more roads into toll roads.

I can think of several reasons why nationalising the roads would be a good idea.

But I can also think of several reasons why nationalising mines would be a bad idea, a very bad idea.

Here are some of them:

  • Mines are a wasting asset. Many mines are nearing the end of their useful life. so taking them over would just be an additional burden to taxpayers. Mining companies amortise the profits over the expected life of the mine, but the profits, for the most part, have long since gone.
  • Mines are becoming a liability. Many mines have caused a lot of pollution, which is becoming worse as they are mined out and no longer work. For example there is acid underground water that needs to be treated. It is only fair that the companies that made the profits should pay to clean up the mess. But if the mines are nationalised, it is the taxpayers who become responsible for paying to clean up the mess that others have profited from.
  • Dying mines will need to lay off workers. If dying mines are nationalised, the government will have to reduce the workforce, and lay off workers. This will set workers against the government.

There are other reasons too, but these are the main one that make me think that we should think twice before nationalising the mines, but that the roads should be nationalised without delay.

Tolls: Cosatu cashes in | City Press

I think that City Press are being more than a little disingenuous in this article, which appeared in last Sunday’s edition, when they imply that Cosatu is being hypocritical by objecting to toll roads while benefiting by investments in a firm engaged in road construction.

Tolls: Cosatu cashes in | City Press

Trade union federation Cosatu, an outspoken critic of toll roads, secretly benefits from a construction company involved in building new highways.

City Press can reveal that Cosatu’s investment arm, Kopano Ke Matla, has shares in Raubex, a construction company that won a tender to build one of Gauteng’s highways that are now being tolled to pay for the construction.

As far as I am aware, Cosatu has no objections, in principle, to road improvement. The point at issue is not improving the roads, but the method of paying for them.

Road construction has to be paid for, no matter who builds the roads.

For Cosatu the issue is not who builds the roads, but who owns the roads, and how they are paid for.

And the ones who are being hypocritical and confusing the issue are those in facour of tolling who keep uttering their mantra “user pays”.

Cosatu and others who object to toll roads say that roads should be paid for by a fuel tax, which is fairest, easiest to administer, and is the best possible application of the “user pays” principle. Its main disadvantage is that it doesn’t give enough opportunities for the elites to make money from kickbacks from the manufacturers of the toll-recording equipment.

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