Advice for self-drivers in Southern Africa

by from Tourism Update • 28 December 2013

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Self-drive through Southern Africa can be a rewarding experience as it allows travellers to truly connect with the region. 

It is therefore not surprising that the self-drive trend is steadily increasing in popularity.  However, the road conditions and regulations can be an eye-opener for first-time travellers to the region.  South African publication Tourism Update recently published this useful SADC road regulation guide as advice for self-drive visitors.  Wild Zambezi has adapted it slightly to suit our local situation.



  • Driving in all SADC countries is on the left-hand side of the road
  • All distances, speed limits (and speedometers) are in kilometres.
  • Four way stops are commonly found at the quieter intersections.  The first vehicle to arrive has priority.
  • Vehicles in traffic circles travel clockwise.  Drivers wishing to enter traffic circles should give way to the right i.e. to those already on the circle.  Beware, this is often overlooked and it is wise to proceed with caution.
  • Drivers must carry a valid driver's licence, registration documents and insurance documents at all times while driving. An International Driver's Permit carried in conjunction with a national driving licence is recommended and must be printed or authenticated in English.
  • Wearing seat belts when driving a car in the region is mandatory.
  • The use of a mobile phone while driving is prohibited, with the exception of a hands-free system.
  • There are strict drinking and driving laws, with a maximum allowable alcohol blood content of 0.05%.  Translated, that means about one glass of wine for the average woman and perhaps 1.5 or 2 for the average or large man.
  • Potholes are a major problem in most of the region and can lead to unsafe driving conditions,  especially during the rainy season (November to April).

  • During the rainy season months, 4x4 drivers are advised to travel in convoy with another vehicle on remote roads in case of flooding or mud. 
  • Road travel at night in rural areas can be hazardous and travellers should note that abandoned/unlit vehicles, pedestrians and stray animals could present a danger.
  • Always respect the warnings on road signs. Be aware that the roads in many rural areas (even main roads) are not fenced, so you could find dogs, chickens, sheep and even horses or cows on the road.  It is even more dangerous to drive at night.
  • Large antelope or other wild animals (even hippo and elephant) crossing the road can also be a hazard in certain areas.

  • Many of the national roads between the major centres are toll roads.  Check the toll fees before you leave and make sure you have cash to pay.
  • When asking for directions, self-drivers may be surprised to get the response "turn left at the next robot".... a robot is a Southern African term for traffic lights.
  • Petrol/fuel stations are NOT all open 24 hours and are NOT necessarily frequently spread along all the main routes.   (South Africa is the only country in the region which is an exception to this rule).   It is advisable when travelling long-distance, to keep your fuel tank topped up in urban centres, and to carry extra fuel in metal containers if travelling in very remote areas where you will not find fuel supplies.   
  • Fuel stations are not self-help but manned by attendants who can also check oil, water and tyre pressure if required. Gratuities for this service are at your own discretion


  • Self-drivers should always drive with doors locked and windows closed in urban areas.
  • They should not pick up hitch-hikers, however innocent or lost they may look.
  • Do not leave anything valuable on show in the car.
  • Try to always park in a busy, well-lit area.
  • Take advice from accommodation hosts and ask if there are any areas that tourists should avoid.
  • Do not confront aggressive drivers.
  • If possible avoid travelling at night in remote areas.
  • Thieves have been known to employ various methods to make a vehicle stop, enabling them to rob the occupants.  One such method is the placing of large stones in the middle of the road. In the circumstances, it is prudent to carefully drive around the stones or obstacle, rather than stop the vehicle.  Be extremely wary of anyone approaching your car when stopped at traffic lights in urban areas, especially at night. 
Note: fees are approximate and may fluctuate according to local exchange rates.

Third-party Insurance is compulsory and can be obtained at the border post  (US$30)
Road Access Fee is based on the vehicle's size paid on entry only.  Rates are:-
Small sedan: R90 (US$10)
Large 4x4: (US$30)
Beitbridge Border Post
Fee:  (US$10)
Exit Pass: (US8) at each exit
Carbon Tax: (US$10 - US$30 depending on the engine capacity of your vehicle)

When travelling in Zimbabwe and towing any caravan or trailer, you will be required to display a set of T-signs.  The white T-sign must be placed on the extreme right FRONT of the caravan or trailer and the red T-sign must be placed on the extreme right REAR of the caravan or trailer.

Police Clearance Certificate may be required if travelling through the Chirundu Border Post, both for vehicles and trailers.
Third-party Insurance is compulsory.
Road Access Fee:  US$30 paid on entry and only accepted in dollars; valid for one year.
Council Levy:  US$20 per car; paid on entry and exit.
Carbon Pollution Tax:  Approx US$50.

Border Charge:  vehicles registered in SACU (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) are charged the following fees:-
Road Transport Permit: 50 Pula ($6)
National Road SafetyL 50 Pula ($6).  An additional 20 Pula (US$2.4) will be charged for a trailer
Third-Party Insurance: 50 Pula ($6) and motor vehicle insurance (minibuses and buses will pay a higher fee).
Temporary Import Permit (TIP): this form will be issued at the border post on entry to cars registered in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique.

The original article first appeared in Tourism Update Digi-Mag Dec 2013


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