Port Elizabeth – Jo’burg by train

The long-distance train from Port Elizabeth  arrives 8 hours late in Jo’burg. “It’s always late,” I was warned at the PE station. Fortunately this time i have my coupe in tourist class and the journey is safe and enjoyable.

Assuming there would be delays, breakdowns and shortages, I brought a box of food and enough bottles of water to last 2 days. The 20 hours trip to Jo’burg usually 30 hours…  In my wagon there a family of afrikaners, a black lady, 2 english girls  and 2 old white couples, one finnish aid worker.

Three hours after  we set off, speeding south, we came to a halt. “There is something wrong. We should not be stopping here”. Four hours later  we were still there. “see what I mean?” It seemed there was a problem with the track. “The heat of teh sun has caused the iron rail to expand and buckle. We must wait until it cools”. This was an unconvincing explanation.

In the 28 hours journey i kill the time listening  great African Music (Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, Miriam Makeba, Simphiwe Dana, Phuzeklemisi, Thansiswa Mazwai) and viewing the panorama: part of the Karoo desert, many small villages, fields with eucalyptus and  small forests.

For dinner I sat a table at the wagon restaurant with Anika, an aid worker and an older English couple who seemed tetchy but perhaps were just nervous. They kept their names for themselves. But they did say that they had lived in southern Africa since 1960 and,  “We could never live in England now”. They were taking a holiday. The man said he was a train buff. “My dream is to take the Trans-Siberian. But I have health problems.”

They lived in a suburb about fifteen miles north of Johannesburg. Of course, there was crime there, the man said; there was crime everywhere, He gave an example.

I was coming home a few years ago and stopped in my driveway. I got out of my car to open the gate and was surrounded by three champs. They had guns. They were shouting at me – they wanted my car -. My wife heard the noise. She thought I was talking to the neighbors. She came out with our two dogs’.

“So you were safe?”.

“not a bit. The dogs were useless. They thought we were going for a ride. The wagged their tails. My wife was pistol-whipped and I was hit hard. We both needed stitches. We lost the car. But, you see, that could have happened anywhere”.

“Anywhere in South Africa”.


The train arrives in Jo’burg the day after at 8:30PM instead 11:30AM. I have 24 hours to visit the coolest quarter in Jozi and sleep one night in an art installation.

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