| Load shedding offers a life for some, but not everyone is happy

Shadrack Mofokeng is happy to control the flow of traffic. Photo: Elizabeth Sejake

Shadrack Mofokeng is happy to control the flow of traffic. Photo: Elizabeth Sejake


When Shadrack Mofokeng wakes up in the morning under a bridge on Malibongwe Drive in Johannesburg, he folds the piece of plastic he sleeps on. He does not know how he will make a contribution to society that day as a street hawker.

But, as a “lay traffic officer”, he seems to have found his purpose – that of guiding the stream of cars during load shedding, deciding when they stop, go and turn.

Mofokeng (27), who has never had a formal job, says he started controlling the traffic at the intersection last year. This was after he saw countless accidents in the chaos that ensued as motorists tried to get home during rush hour at the busy William Nicol Drive and Republic Road intersection.

Mofokeng previously made a living on that corner for four years by performing tricks for motorists, with sticks. He still does when the traffic lights are working. He says he has watched real traffic officers in action many times.

When you watch him in action, he looks like an expert. He brings the traffic on the opposite side of Malibongwe Drive to a stop, then turns to the right and energetically signals to those motorists to drive.

He says:

Because I’m always here, I’ve learnt [how to do it]. If this one goes, that one must stop, and if that one goes, this one must stop.

People appreciate his efforts.

“Some people give me R2 or R5,” he says, picking up a container of ice cream from the ground and taking a bite. “Now I’m eating a McFlurry, which someone bought for me,” he says.

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He says a motorist gave him the yellow reflector vest he wears to make him more visible. At most, he makes between R50 and R150 a day.

Duty officer: Shadrack Mofokeng’s efforts are not appreciated by the metro police as he is not trained to man traffic Photo: Elizabeth Sejake / Rapport

The more load shedding there is, the better his business does. However, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) has started removing informal traffic controllers such as Mofokeng from the roads.

Thulani Khanyile, director of the JMPD, says it is the metro police’s mandate to regulate traffic and not that of untrained people, because they can cause accidents.

Xolani Fihla, the spokesperson for the JMPD, says the City of Joburg takes no responsibility for damage caused when homeless people, hawkers or motorists step in as traffic controllers during outages.

The city can be held liable for damage caused by unauthorised traffic controllers. Last year, the JMPD decided that its officers should be available at peak times to work at intersections.

About the multitude of traffic intersections where there are no metro police to keep the traffic flowing, Khanyile says: “Remember, we can’t be everywhere.”

Wynand van Vuuren, the spokesperson for King Price Insurance, says that load shedding leads to a change in people’s behaviour – motorists are more impatient and frustrated, which leads to more accidents.

Traffic lights that are out of order lead to an increase in the number of accidents, he adds.

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 Van Vuuren says, 

The help of this unqualified crossing control may lead to better traffic flow, but may also lead to more incidents because the people are not trained.

“However, as long as you were not reckless, your insurance will pay out [your claim] regardless of whether the points person was qualified or not.

“In any case, you can’t always determine whether it’s a qualified traffic controller. If you exercise the necessary caution and something happens, your insurer must help you,” he says.

Natasha Kawulesar, the spokesperson for OUTsurance Insurance, says they will not refuse claims simply because an unqualified traffic controller was involved.

Duty Calls: Shadrack Mofokeng hard at work at the corner of William Nicol PHOTO: Elizabeth Sejake / Rapport

Kawulesar says, when the robots are off, motorists have to approach them as if they would a stop sign. She says their clients are covered for road accident damage according to the wording of their policies. “It [load shedding] is not excluded, so yes, there is cover.”

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Fihla says the JMPD has received complaints about unofficial traffic controllers in the past, especially from people in the further northern suburbs of Johannesburg, such as Fourways and Lonehill.

He admits that there is no provision in law for the metro police to fine an unofficial traffic controller, but says there have been reported cases of their tampering with the robots or vandalising them.

Meanwhile, Mofokeng says he only gets gratitude from the motorists. Some buy him bread or mealie meal at a shop near “his” intersection.

A woman motorist in a grey BMW hoots and gives Mofokeng a friendly wave as she drives past.

“I drive this way to and from work every day. Shadrack is always here. He is helpful and knows when criminals are around. Then he warns you,” she says.

CityPress | News