Defend Truth


Yeehaw! It’s demolition derby time (otherwise known as a drive home in Joburg during peak hour)


Jeremy Maggs is a veteran journalist, television and radio presenter, and MD of communications firm, Bold. He is the author of ‘WIN!’ and ‘My Final Answer’.

On our 5pm trip down Jan Smuts Avenue, we were deep into Stage 5 load shedding, rain was falling, Johannesburg’s intolerance measure was off the charts and minibus taxis were practising their specially mandated protocol of driving lane-free, wherever they want, at high speed.

Driving in South Africa, noted my perpetually anxious Chicago visitor, reminded him of a unique pastime back home — the demolition derby — only here, with nicer cars and wider eyes behind the wheel.

For those not familiar with the ways of this US motorsport, which usually takes place in the deep South, five drivers compete in a race and the last one whose car is still operational is declared the winner.

At this point, a Confederate flag is draped over the smoking vehicle and shots of Wild Turkey bourbon are offered while a Lynyrd Skynyrd medley is played over the tannoy.

I’m riffing a little here for dramatic import. Journalism, I strongly believe, needs more accompanying soundtracks. During the useless State of the Nation promise-fest I played the Smashing Pumpkins’ The End Is the Beginning Is the End on repeat and I found the righteous anger I was looking for.

I fetched my guest from a shopping trip at a plush up-market mall, as YOU magazine might write about a family murder in Stellenbosch, where for the equivalent of $20 he bought the entire contents of a Woolworths food hall with change to spare I imagine.

The route home to Chez Maggs takes one down Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg, where towards its bottom is a monument to poor city planning where a series of unsynchronised traffic lights (he snorts every time I use the word “robots”) have been placed too closely together, which even during light traffic flow causes bottlenecks.

On an earlier longer-distance country trip — and don’t get me started on the N2 and cowboy coal trucks — I’d given him the job of pointing out potholes, a task he took on with vigour and enthusiasm.

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At one point, he maniacally resembled a deaf conductor trying to manage Beethoven’s tricky Symphony No 5 in C minor, while the orchestra had other ideas and wanted an early lunch.

After 30 minutes he gave up pointing and lurching around, tears streaming from his face and giving me the hand sign for respect before self-medicating.

On our 5pm trip down Jan Smuts we were deep into Stage 5 load shedding, rain was falling, Johannesburg’s intolerance measure was off the charts and minibus taxis were practising their specially mandated protocol of driving lane-free, wherever they want, at high speed.

Adding to our roller coaster of adrenaline-fuelled misery was the emergence of a new deep-level mining feasibility study which had a single piece of orange tape festooned around the hole, deep enough to hear smug cousins in Perth crowing about their new life Down Under.

I tried to explain the unwritten rules of the chaos. Big vehicles always have right of way and don’t f*ck with them. All taxis are given the status of emergency vehicles; arrogant drivers behind the wheel of German saloons are not targets, however tempting; and give the Uber Eats guy a break. Stressed Joburgers need their cold, limp Regina pizza as a reward for getting home alive. In any case, you’ll be calling for one yourself as your ESP app has just told you Stage 6 begins in an hour — until further notice as a pencil sharpener at Kusile has broken down.

And who is he? asked my white-knuckled passenger. You mean the homeless undernourished man with a green reflective jacket who in an act of selflessness and with little chance of reward has taken it upon himself to bring some order to the chaos by directing traffic?

I explain we have no agreed-on protocol for this. But the bigger and more expensive the vehicle, the less likely they are to obey his rudimentary hand signals. My guest immediately conferred unsung hero status on this man and Spotify moved on to Despair and Traffic by the punk duo Slaves.

Quite by accident, of course, which the granny next to me in a Hillman Imp was about to have, unless I let her in. Which I did. DM 


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  • Nicolle Weir says:

    I loved your piece and made me smile despite our current reality…can you imagine what stories your friend will tell when he makes it back home to the US😂

  • Joan van Zyl says:

    I really enjoyed this!

  • Jill Smythe says:

    Love this – you have captured the daily Joburg commute perfectly. One thing you did leave out was the hypervigilance for smash and grabbers. My daughter has just moved to UK and one of her small daily joys is being able to put her phone in a dashboard cradle instead of hiding it under her thigh and hoping that a cellphone liberator does not grope her unmentionables while trying to find it.

  • Steven D says:

    Good for a laugh on a Friday – especially the pencil sharpener, which likely cost R80,000 instead of R324! Thanks, Jeremy!

  • Margaret Jensen says:

    You’ve just got to love South Africa.
    Brilliant Jeremy Maggs.

  • Gerrit P says:


  • M P says:

    Spot on article! When I bought my Jeep Wrangler last year I thought I’d have to take it off road to really get the most out of it… turns out my drive to and from Melsrose Arch from Modderfontein really tests its 4×4 capabilities!

    All jokes aside, driving in Joburg has always been full of “road rage” but it’s off the charts at the moment with all the robots that are out and terrible state of the roads. I see numerous close misses everyday as the rules of the road have become mere suggestions to most drivers.

  • harversojen546 says:

    One so seldom gets a genuine laugh when reading the local papers – thank you!

  • toni.younghusband says:

    A glorious piece of hilarity. Thank you Jeremy

  • Paul Fanner says:

    A Hillman Imp? Really? Even on the Highveld that should kong ago have been killed by the rust that afflicted them

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Thanks Jeremy, you put a smile on my dial this morning

  • Robert Nugent says:

    Jan Smuts Avenue? A piece of cake. Try Louis Botha Avenue

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    Hillman Imp? A man of culture I see…..

  • roland rink says:

    Thank you Jeremy!
    Next time out do try William Nichol around 12 noon on any Sunday heading north to access a road to Lonehill using a manual gear shift. The family wonder why i’ve become a recluse???????

  • Cliff McCormick says:

    Please do not stop writing – a good laugh is badly needed. Such insight like buying the entire contents of Woolies food for $20. I am still laughing and crying at the same time.

  • sunsingh0123 says:

    Maggs for Mayor! Bravo!

  • Jennifer Luiz says:

    I keep my coins for the homeless undernourished men with green reflective jackets who in an act of selflessness and with little chance of reward have taken it upon themselves to bring some order to the chaos by directing traffic. They, at least, are providing a useful service unlike those who watch the chaos from the pavement, waving their signs at you and making juggling movements with their hands.

  • Siobhan Hanvey says:

    Thank you for the giggle. What really concerns me is how few drivers are aware that if the traffic light is BLANK i.e. not flashing red just no lights at all it needs to be treated as a 4 way stop. I have on more than one occasion almost been rear-ended when civically (stupidly) stopping at such a blank traffic. I salute all the self-appointed points persons and hope they remain safe!

  • Janet Lytwynchuk says:

    Hilarious but true. I spent 3 terrifying evenings driving between Pretoria and Joburg at night this month – the highway was fine but when off it …. As I am from Cape Town, I needed to redo my learners licence for navigating during load shedding as I am used to roads without potholes, traffic lights at many intersections in load shedding and that old fashioned stuff called paint, used for road markings and reflective stripes on the traffic light poles. I clearly have no idea about the hierarchy of road users, add that to the learners list and Highway code. Those guys directing the traffic were great, but then I was in a smaller car so could understand and obey them. Next time I will choose a good sound track, it clearly helps.

  • Beatrice Fox says:

    My husband and I know your “perpetually anxious” passenger well and look forward to hearing about this escapade here in Chicago, by which time it will be embellished with more details.
    Each year we travel the N3 from Johannesburg or Durban to the Midlands. Each time I am certain we will end up in either the morgue or divorce court, but we’ve managed to avoid both, enabling us to return to your heavenly country.
    Keep up the good work!!

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