Memorable Crossings (South Africa)

On February 27, 2011 · 5 Comments

Google Street View came to South Africa as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It remains the only portion of continental Africa[1] with Street View coverage as of the time I posted this in February 2011. It provides opportunities to explore South Africa but it leaves me wanting for images of its neighbors. One can spy only fleeting images from the South African side of the line, leaving a warped impression of other nations based upon artificial confluences at single points along the border.

This notion came to mind as I considered comments from a recent post made by loyal readers "Calgully" and "Peter." We’d focused on South Africa’s border outside Lesotho’s capital of Maseru.


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Peter noted: "The Street View across the border in South Africa gives what may be a glimpse into Lesotho’s economy. There are about 25 minibuses lined up (including ones with the windshield slogans ‘Tears of Sadness’ and ‘Jealous – Down(?)’) apparently waiting for passengers. My guess is that they shuttle Maseru residents to jobs in South Africa, perhaps to the city of Bloemfontein more than 50 miles away."

Is there a similar dynamic at work at South African border towns with other nations, or does it vary by location?


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Lesotho is positioned geographically in an unusual manner, a small enclave within South Africa completely surrounded on all sides, sharing no border with any other nation. Swaziland probably comes closer to a similar situation than many other African nations. It’s a small country like Lesotho but not quite an enclave as it finds itself sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique.

One also finds a different situation at the border crossing. A measure of commercial activity concentrates at this boundary outpost but it seems quieter, less frenzied. A large mural on a merchant’s wall implies a hearty welcome to South Africa from Coca Cola and the Oshoek Super Market & Take Away.


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By contrast, abundant small-time vendor stalls line the roadside at a crossing with Mozambique. It seems considerably more vibrant and alive.

ClustrMap for Twelve Mile Circle

I also discovered what may be one of the most oddly specific road sign I’ve ever seen. It features a person, a table, a little pyramid of goodies, and best of all an umbrella. Unmistakably it prohibits the exact type of entrepreneurial activity that is taking place on all sides, complete with sundries, tables and umbrellas. It’s small-scale Capitalism at its finest.


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This crossing at the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe seems to be a major international shipping route. It does have its share of locally-based vendors jockeying for position with a captive audience. In addition and more impressive however is the huge line of tractor-trailer trucks waiting to be cleared across the border. I also noticed large freight yards in satellite view as well as areas being used by automobile importers. This is very definitely a significant commercial transit point for the movement of goods throughout the southeastern part of the continent.


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After all that activity and excitement we come to the border with Botswana. Very little seems to be happening here. The image shows a blockade but looks are deceiving: I found a sign nearby in Street View that identified this as the Skilpadshek Border Post, along with an explanation, "Upgrading of Essential Infrastructure – Construction of Main Border Post." Nonetheless there isn’t much population density within the immediate vicinity, thus reducing entrepreneurial opportunities.

One other nation borders South Africa: Namibia. I found no Street View coverage in that quadrant, however.

In the next installment I’ll look at border crossings along another nation with interesting neighbors: Mexico.

[1]The Canary Islands are generally considered a part of Africa and also have Google Street View coverage, thus the hair-splitting about "continental" Africa.

On February 27, 2011 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Memorable Crossings (South Africa)”

  1. David Overton says:

    I zoomed out a little way from your Zimbabwe/South Africa border crossing point and noticed another border feature that I thought would interest you:,29.200287&spn=0.494555,1.056747&t=h&z=11&msid=202434049183306521557.00049d4b80920a56a71e2

    The Zimbabwe/Botswana border follows the Shashe River north from the Zimbabwe/Botswana/South Africa tripoint, but then it veers off to the west and follows what looks like a perfect arc, enclosing an area labelled as the “Tuli Safari Area”, until it returns to and continues following the river.

    I found a brief mention of this “Tuli Circle” on Wikipedia:,_Zimbabwe which says that the radius of the circle is 10 miles.

    I don’t recall seeing any mention of this geo-oddity on your site before, which surprises me given your obvious interest in such things. Do you know of any other circular border segments (apart from the one after which this site is named)? If there are others, it might be a good topic for a future blog post 🙂


  2. Heh. I submitted an extremely similar article to GSS earlier this month. Great minds, great minds…

  3. Peter says:

    The Limpopo crossing is not only the main trade route for Zimbabwe, but it also serves Zambia and the Katanga mining area of the Congo.

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