A Pedestrian Paradox in Cape Town

Capetonians are a very congenial bunch. I see bus passengers give up their seats for the elderly and disabled without being asked, and the cashiers at Woolworths and Pick n Pay are almost always friendly and smiling. I find the custom of saying “It’s a pleasure!” (you’re welcome) charming—and apparently genuine.

But when it comes to relations between pedestrians and drivers, that genteel behavior disappears as if blown away by the Mother City’s notorious wind.

And whose fault is this? I have no idea. Chickens and eggs come to mind.

Pedestrians in Cape Town are passionate jaywalkers. The little green person in the “robot” (traffic light) might as well be all for show—or perhaps for the entertainment of visitors—because you almost never see a Capetonian standing on the corner and waiting for it to turn green.

If traffic is really heavy and there seems no likelihood of making it across the street alive, pedestrians will bunch up and wait for their turn to pour out into the street. But as soon as there’s a gap in the traffic, off they go. You’d have as much luck stopping that flow of humanity as you would holding back the tide. They seem to be daring drivers to keep coming at them.

And the drivers are only too happy to oblige. Or, is it the drivers who are daring the pedestrians? Drivers (whether in passenger cars, trucks or MyCiti buses) love to honk at people in the streets. If they can sneak up behind a pedestrian and scare him with a nice, loud blare, all the better. You hear car horns a lot in Cape Town. Really—a lot.

It’s “hectic,” as they say.

So, as I stand on the corner (alone) waiting for that little green person to light up—and even then I venture out into the street cautiously—I’m confused. Because apart from this pedestrian/driver paradox, everyone in Cape Town is just so nice.

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