Transport in South Africa

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Different methods of Transport in South Africa include roads, railways, airports, water, and pipelines for petroleum oil. The majority of people in South Africa use informal minibus taxis as their main mode of transport. BRT has been implemented in some South African cities in an attempt to provide more formalized and safer public transport services. These systems have been widely criticized due to their large capital and operating costs. The high densities of people required for BRT to be sustainable is not met in South African cities especially when paired with the inefficient land-use planning bred from the apartheid era. A "freeway" is different from most countries as certain things are forbidden which include certain motorcycles, no hand signals, and motor tricycles. South Africa has many major ports including Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth that allow ships and other boats to pass through, some carrying passengers and some carrying petroleum tankers.


The national speed limit is between 50 or 80  km/h in residential areas and 120 km/h on national roads/freeways/motorways.

In 2002 the country had 362,099  km of highways, 73,506  km (17%) of which was paved (including 239  km of expressways).[1]

Cape Town Taxi Cab Advertising Shimansky

In South Africa, the term freeway differs from most other parts of the world. A freeway is a road where certain restrictions apply.[2] The following are forbidden from using a freeway:

  • a vehicle drawn by an animal;
  • a pedal cycle (such as a bicycle);
  • a motor cycle having an engine with a cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 cm3 or that is propelled by electrical power;
  • a motor tricycle or motor quadrucycle;
  • pedestrians

Drivers may not use hand signals on a freeway (except in emergencies) and the minimum speed on a freeway is 60 km/h (37 mph). Drivers in the rightmost lane of multi-carriageway freeways must move to the left if a faster vehicle approaches from behind to overtake.

Despite popular opinion that "freeway" means a road with at least two carriageways, single carriageway freeways exist, as is evidenced by the statement that "the roads include 1400 km of dual carriageway freeway, 440 km of single carriageway freeway and 5300 km of single carriage main road with unlimited access."[3] The Afrikaans translation of freeway is snelweg (literally fast road or expressway).

Road Transport

The Department of Transport is responsible for regulation of all transportation in South Africa, including public transport, rail transportation, civil aviation, shipping, freight, and motor vehicles. According to the Department's vision statement, "Transport [is] the heartbeat of South Africa's economic growth and social development!"[4]

Minibus Taxis

Minibus Taxis are the predominant form of transport for people in urban areas of South Africa.[5] This is due to their availability and affordability to the public[6]. Most minibus taxis are not subsidized by the state and the taxi industry is notorious for using vehicles that are not well maintained are that are often not roadworthy to keep costs low[7]. Because many taxi owners own just a few taxis and each owner may choose to manage their business differently, there is not much known as to the inner workings of the industry that is rife with violence. Since 1994 there have been efforts to formalize the industry but as taxi organisations often don't abide by labour regulations, relationships between taxi operators and the state are often strained.

Cape Town My City Bus

Cape Town and MyCiTi IRT

The City of Cape Town has made it clear that developing public transportation must be a priority, if it is to achieve its long-term developmental goals. As such, the City has planned out the development of an Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system called "MyCiTi IRT". In 2007, the construction of this system began with the implementation of Cape Town's "Bus Rapid Transit" system. This first phase has been designed to enable easy integration of other forms of public transport - ranging from cycling to South Africa's famous minibuses in later phases of the IRT development [8] - including rail transit, seen currently as "the backbone of public transportation in Cape Town."[9]


In 2000, South Africa had 20,384 km of rail transport, all of it narrow gauge. 20,070 km was 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge (9,090 km of that electrified), with the remaining 314 km 610 mm (2 ft) gauge. The operation of the country's rail systems is accomplished by Transnet subsidiaries Transnet Freight Rail, Shosholoza Meyl, Metrorail, Transnet Rail Engineering, Protekon et al.

A feasibility study is to be conducted into the construction of a 720 km of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) (standard gauge) line from Johannesburg to Durban for double-stack container trains.[10]

On 2010-06-07 the Gautrain opened between Oliver R Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) and Sandton. This is the first stage of a standard gauge passenger line connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and ORTIA.[11]

Links exist to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. Railways linking Mozambique are under repair.

Transportation systems in nearby countries


Runway <914 m 914/1 523 m 1 524/2 437 m 2 438/3 047 m >3 047 m Total
Paved 11 67 50 5 10 143
Unpaved 252 298 34 584


South Africa's major ports and harbours are Cape Town, Durban, East London, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, and Saldanha Bay. In 2006 the new port is to open: Ngqura, at Coega, which is 20 km northeast of Port Elizabeth. The administration and operation of the country's port facilities is done by two subsidiaries of Transnet, the Transnet National Ports Authority and South African Port Operations (SAPO).

In 2002, the merchant marine consisted of eight ships of 1,000 GRT or over, totaling 271,650 GRT/268,604 tonnes deadweight (DWT). Six were container ships, and two were petroleum tankers (including foreign-owned ships registered as a flag of convenience: Denmark: 3, Netherlands: 1).


There are 931 km of crude oil pipeline transport, 1,748 km for other petroleum products, and 322 km for natural gas. Petronet, a subsidiary of Transnet, which in turn is majority owned by the government, is principally responsible for the operation of South Africa's pipelines.


One of the last trams that were in use in Johannesburg

A number of urban tramway systems operated in South Africa but no longer do so. The last system (in Johannesburg) began in 1890 as Rand Tramway(electrified in 1906) and ceased operations in 1961.[12]


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ Road Traffic Act No 29 of 1989 Archived 17 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ "Transportation: Roads". South Africa:– Stats and Facts. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Minibus Taxis and Road Safety". Arrive Alive. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  6. ^ "The minibus taxi industry in South Africa: A servant for the urban poor?". Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  7. ^ "Minibus taxis | Getting Around | Johannesburg". Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 January 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  10. ^ International Railway Journal, 2005-01-03
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 November 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2011.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook website

External links

  • Aviation, Airlines, Airports in South Africa
  • Department of Transport
  • Road statistics 2001/2003: distance travelled and fatal crashes by vehicle type and province (PDF)
  • Transnet Site
  • Travel Distances
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