I wanted to wait it out but David doesn't do waiting very well. It
was early afternoon and we still had a three hour drive to Port Elizabeth. Our guide book had warned that Port Elizabeth is not safe at night and we didn't want to be searching for our hotel in a strange, potentially threatening city, after dark. The other side of the highway was empty. No cars were getting through in either direction and we had no idea how long the blockage was likely to last. More than one vehicle ahead of us abandoned the wait and u-turned across the double lines. David did the same.
With a very basic tourist map and the aid of our GPS, we plotted a route which we hoped would bring us out on the highway again beyond the 'accident'. What we didn't realise was that our detour would take us right through the heart of the Nekkies, one of South Africa's infamous townships.
In the Nekkies we came face to face with a very different South Africa. We were fair-skinned in a dark-skinned world. We drove a brand new car in a world of few private vehicles. We were well-off in a land of poverty.
David dodged pigs, cows and goats as he followed the twists and turns of the road. I kept one eye on the GPS, frightened we would lose the through route and find ourselves on the spaghetti-like tangle of dirt tracks and pathways plunging into the bowels of the township.
|The Nekkies, Knysna|
|There was only one road through.|
|The Nekkies, South Africa|
|A Nekkies hair salon operating out of a shipping container. All the hairdressers were the same.|
|Poverty in South Africa|
After three-quarters of an hour or so we emerged from the Nekkies onto the R339 which led us south to a T-junction with the highway. Just before it joined the highway the R339 was on fire. A metre wide strip of flames danced up from the bitumen extending across the whole width of the road. There was no way through. A policeman turned the car ahead of us around. He laughed when we asked how we could get through to Port Elizabeth.
'No Port Elizabeth today,' he said, dismissing us with a wave of his hand.
We were still confused, but one thing was clear - this was no car accident. We were beginning to realise we had stumbled onto a riot. Later we heard that cars ahead of us had been attacked with rocks. What we thought was burning bitumen were old tyres strung out across the road and set alight. It turned out that this was one of a series of rolling disturbances by Nekkies residents, protesting against inadequate housing.
|Goats on the road.|
The forest road quickly deteriorated to little more than a dirt track. The dark shade from the vegetation made avoiding the killer potholes difficult. Baboons eyed us curiously from the forest edges. In other circumstances it may have been a fun deviation. Two hours later when we finally emerged yet again on the highway the road was clear and three hours after that we finally arrived at Port Elizabeth, tired, stressed and wondering whether we had made a mistake in coming to South Africa at all.
Note: I have only this one, very poor quality, photograph of the protest. It was taken on a side road, not where the main riot was. However the following link is to a news site with photos showing the tyres burning on the highway.
The topic of next week's post will be our stay at Shamwari, the largest private game reserve in the Cape. Keep an eye out for it next Friday/Saturday.
For last week's post click here
For links to the full list of my South African road trip posts click here