OKEs, DOPs and POPs (A Very South African Post)

Traveling down to the seaside in December as kids, we would have endless fun spotting those old black on yellow license plates from around the country. There was a certain snappy pertinence to the OILs from Sasolburg, the OREs from Bethlehem, the OKEs from Kroonstad, the CATs from Cathcart and the TVs from Vereeniging (what else is there to do there?). We would flash our headlights at fellow TJers, and my mother would tell us a bit about the places the other cars came from – vastly enriching my knowledge of this grand country.

Now, South Africa has a system with two letters followed by two numbers and then another two letters – finishing with two more letters for the provincial abbreviation. Granted, you can still construe something about a car’s occupants by looking at their plates, and you can make up inane idioms for the new provincial abbreviations (Monkey Parade, Gangster’s Paradise, and so on) – but there just isn’t that local zing in our blue-on-whites. FA 00 RT GP just doesn’t have the same magic to it. People are already showing their preference for the more poetic. Personalised plates like BEEMER 1 FS, HOTCHICK GP or VIRINDA 3 KZN are all the rage – and an obvious Haiku on the egotism of their owners. It seems that if you don’t pigeon-hole people, they’ll do it themselves.

These days, the game we play during our coastal migrations goes like this: We take the first and second set of letters of a random vehicle, and whoever can concoct the longest recognized word using all four letters (in order) gets the points. For example, GC 78 AY MP gives me 110 points for the word ‘gynecocracy’. (Assuming of course that the gynecocracy that reigns in my car will allow the word.) How about ‘gesticulatory’ then for 130? (We’re a wordy bunch.)

But this still doesn’t have quite the same magic as those early road trips. My suggestion is that we develop a new, more localised system of tagging cars from different parts of the country, similar to the very first system. Here are just a few I would like to see:

• DRY, WOL or BAA – the Karoo
• GEM or GAT – Kimberly
• GUN, KILL or DOP – Johannesburg
• BUX or DOL – Sandton.
• SLO – Bloemfontein
• BOK – Kruger National Park
• BOS – Knysna
• OKE or CUZ – the East Rand
• POP – Darling
• GAL – Bitterfontein
• VRY or SIS – Sandy Bay
• ASP – Poffadder
• BAD or ERR – Nkandla
• ARM – Littleton
• BET – Sun City
• BYE – Lieeu Gamka
• DUN – Lenasia
• ALP – Drakensberg
• POT – Koffiefontein
• BUL – Pretoria
• VIS – Vaal Dam
• RUN – Pietermaritzburg
• TAN, FIN or SUN – Durban
• JOL or SIN – Hillbrow
• HOT – Thabazimbi / Hotazel
• BLO – Port Elizabeth
• ART – Grahamstown
• KAP – Sabie
• HUT – Ixopo
• DIK – Oranje
• AWE – Cape Town
• ANC – Mangaung
• BRR – Sutherland
• GEM – Kimberley
• DOG – Onderstepoort

Yes, I will concede that my new number plate system might not be very practical, but just think about all the things we could learn about our own country while driving. And – like neon g-strings on the beach – they’d be vastly more interesting to wear and look at. (Even if they are not quite as functional.)

And they would make any holiday just that little bit more stimulating.


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