Willie has his papers, can leave the lot now, join the queue, but nothing is moving and the only way of ascertaining the way forward is to check whether the cabs are occupied – an unscientific approach that can lead to poor decisions.
An exhaust blasts two trucks further up. Willie fires up the engine and six surrounding truckers do the same.
“Ah, this is what happens when the officials take supper. Too many people get cleared at once.”
There is no queue, just a dozen trucks in a bottleneck. When a truck ahead of us moves, all 12 trucks converge on the vacated space.
Willie tells me how, one day, he joined the wrong queue. For an hour or so it moved, an outside line, risky, but it was moving. Then a truck lurched in front of the truck ahead of him and stopped. The queue ended.
Crocodiles on a kill
“There was a new queue,” Willie says, shrugging philosophically.
His muttering today suggests things are not going well. The 12 trucks continue to surge at every forward movement, like crocodiles on a kill.
When the true crunch comes, Willie identifies a stalemate to the right – a black-and-white Zalawi truck refusing to give way to a yellow Superlink. The trucks reach the bottleneck together and cancel each other out.
“Stuck, stuck, stuck,” yells Willie, excited now. He begins a diplomatic discussion with a red tractor on his left.
“When the queue moves, wedge yourself in there. Then we can come in behind and join the new flow.”
The driver nods and takes the advice. We’re moving, at the expense of another queue, which has suddenly gone dead.
To cement his position Willie is almost standing outside his truck, making frantic hand signals in all directions. He seems to have read the mess perfectly. A true pro.
On our right trucks are reversing, the drivers scowling. The whole scene is practically lost in dust with red brake lights burning through the haze. Then all of a sudden we are clear; the queue has narrowed to a single-file procession going up the hill to the security checkpoint.
It is an hour from here before we are in Zimbabwe with our load of packaging paper, maybe two, but it is okay: nobody can stop us now.
Dispatches is a series that provides a glimpse into who we are and how we live in SA