I was in the land of my birth, a beautiful kingdom somewhere in the lower east corner of Africa, formerly Swaziland, now known as Eswatini, for the last week.
I had planned to spend two nights, but my son tore his calf muscle playing tennis, my daughter-in-law had to go to Cape Town, so I was given the pleasure of being taxi to my grandchildren for the week. Much fun, I loved the time with them, but I am out of practice and had forgotten how exhausting school days are.
The biggest challenge was coping with Swazi drivers. They have always been bad, but the degree of belligerent behaviour by a number of drivers on the roads of this country is terrifying.
I have long associated ignorance with arrogance, and the blatant disregard by many drivers for the road laws, and total lack of simple ethical behavior bespeaks an ignorance of consequence that goes way beyond anything I have experienced in my three score years and ten.
This region of Eswatini is mountainous, and the road leading from the capital, Mbabane, to what is referred to as ‘The Valley’, meaning the Ezulwini Valley and hub of Swazi life is notoriously dangerous. It drops over 1500 feet in the space of five kilometres, hairpin bends followed by precipitous slopes. It once featured in the Guinness Book of Records for the most deaths per capita mile of any road in the world, to help you understand the perils of this pass somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Do those who live here care? Do they respect the gravity of the road, in both its meanings? Driving up this Malagwane on Monday at a busy time of the afternoon, 5 pm, with my grandchildren, I was tailgated by a large white twin cab SUV. I was behind a Prada, and we were moving in tandem at the regulated speed limit in the ‘fast’ lane. But Mr Happysticks Idiot behind me wanted to go faster, so he glued himself menacingly to my back bumper.
When I didn’t make way he zagged to the inside lane, to find a slow-moving truck in his way so he pulled in front of me, narrowly missing my left fender and the left bumper of the Prada, and again positioned himself 2 inches off the Prada’s bumper. And there he stayed until the lead vehicle took an offramp near the top of this extraordinarily dangerous mountain pass. I need to add that his vehicle is registered to the Eswatini Government, department abbreviation UN. An un-man, I muttered as I watched in utter amazement his folly that put so many innocent people at risk.
But he is not alone. This is the manner of driving here. You are constantly tailgated by people in such a tearing hurry to go nowhere and do nothing. Because the level and speed of service offered in shops and businesses alike is frequently slow to moribund.
Local drivers believe, too, that what is yours is mine and appropriate as much of the road as they wish, regardless of any dividing line. Most people seem to prefer driving on the left in a country that is right-hand drive. Let me not start on the ineffectiveness of stop streets and red robots. Or idiots overtaking long lines of rush hour traffic in the face of oncoming vehicles where there is no space to dodge imminent collision to push in and get wherever sooner.
Who has told you your appointment, or your time, is more valuable than mine or all the other people lining up patiently waiting for the light to change? Eish, madoda!
Four days of having to drive at least twice a day has done wonders for my concentration and reflexes.
But I must admonish my fellow countrymen. Haaibo, bekunene, ucabanga kutsi wentani? Do you have no respect at all? For the laws of your land? For life? for your fellow man? When did you become so arrogant as to think you can flout the laws and universal principles without consequence? And when death strikes because of your behaviour, how loudly do you cry? Who all do you go and make your peace with and to whom do you offer humble apologies?
And where, Eswatini Royal Police, are you in all this? Speed traps and once-in-the-blue moon roadblocks are not enough to stop what is happening on your roads.
Enough of that!
One reason for my visit to Eswatini was to get a new travel document. Passports here are a privilege, not a right as elsewhere in the world, so most Swazis travel on a document that allows us trans-border visits within the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) countries. But, alas, the Ministry of Interior responsible for issuing these Travel Documents has run out of them. Not one to be had.
“When do you expect to have them?” I asked the extremely pleasant young lady who was assisting me.
“End of February, maybe March,” she tried to smile reassuringly.
“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“Oh,” she said. “The border people know we have a crisis, so you should be fine.”
I wish you understood that border officials are not as nice as you, sitting here in your office, imagine them to be was the riposte that remained in my head. This thought was proved correct when the South African immigration official refused to put the stamp on a page with space, instead placing it on the inviolate last page, saying “Your passport is finished!” In truth, why should our neighbours be magnanimous in bending their rules because we got it wrong?
As I drive home to White River, I imagine how much humble pie I will have to eat, how many Gogo tears I will squeeze when I return to get a new Eswatini Travel Document, hopefully before the Easter rush wipes out the expected supply.
The words of Siya Kolisi, captain extraordinaire of the Springbok Rugby team, ‘Do your job. And do it well!’ come to mind. His words ring so true.
Please, emaSwati, do your job, and yes, do it to the best of your ability. We, your citizens, deserve better.