South Africa Road Network

By | December 10, 2022

According to wholevehicles, South Africa has a highly developed road network that is among the best in Africa. The official road network has been determined to be 535,000 kilometers long, of which 168,000 kilometers are urban roads and 366,872 kilometers are other roads. South Africa has 2,160 kilometers of motorway, 940 kilometers of four-lane roads and 62,794 kilometers of single-lane paved roads. There is also a network of 300,978 kilometers of gravel road. However, the Transport department speaks of a network of 750,000 kilometers of road, of which 158,124 kilometers are paved.

Road management

The N2 in Cape Town.

The national road authority in South Africa is The South African National Roads Agency Limited, abbreviated SANRAL. SANRAL was established in 1998 to take over the national road management. SANRAL operates 21,403 kilometers of road in South Africa, of which 84% are toll-free and 16% are toll roads. Toll roads are financed by bonds, the toll-free roads are financed by the government of South Africa. One objective is to eventually increase the network of national roads to 35,000 kilometres.

National Roads

There is a network of 22,197 kilometers of national roads serving all parts of South Africa. Due to the low traffic volume on the long-distance connections, motorways are only available in metropolitan regions. The national roads are single lane, partly with 2+1 lanes and partly with 2×2 lanes or wider. The national roads are mostly in fair to good condition and connect all the cities of South Africa.

Provincial Roads

The provincial roads are the secondary roads of South Africa and complement the national road network. They are numbered with the prefix ‘R’, from the R21 to R82. Not all provincial roads are actually managed by the provinces, SANRAL also manages part of the provincial roads. Parts of the provincial roads in built-up areas are often managed by the municipalities. Provincial roads range from gravel roads to freeways.

Regional Routes

The regional routes form the third layer of roads in South Africa. They are numbered with a 3-digit R number. Most regional routes are managed by the provinces. In some cases they are managed by SANRAL.

Motorways

The N1 at Johannesburg.

There is no national network of motorways in South Africa, the traffic volume outside the urban regions is too low for this. South Africa’s 2,160 kilometers of motorway is mainly concentrated in three major urban areas; Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Johannesburg’s highway network is very extensive, which is why the city is sometimes called the ‘Los Angeles of Africa’. The highways in Johannesburg sometimes have up to 6 lanes in each direction and have large interchanges. Johannesburg’s highway network extends into the whole of Gauteng province and partly beyond. This is the largest regional highway network in Africa. There is an urban highway network around Cape Town, but it does not extend beyond the built-up area. The Durban region has a small regional highway network. Elsewhere there are only short stretches of highway, such as at East London and Port Elizabeth. Some bypasses of the N1 have been developed as freeway, such as at Bloemfontein, Kroonstad and Polokwane.

Motorways can fall under four road number classes, namely national roads, provincial roads, regional routes and metroads. Many highways around Johannesburg are subject to tolls. This is a free-flow toll system.

National Roads & Freeways in South Africa
National Roads: N1 • N2 • N3 • N4 • N5 • N6 • N7 • N8 • N9 • N10 • N11 • N12 • N14 • N17 • N18Johannesburg: R21 • R24 • R59 • R80 • M1 • M2

Cape Town: M3 • M5 • M7 • R300

Durban: M4

The N-road network

The National Roads of South Africa.

# No. Procedure Length
N1 Cape Town – Bloemfontein – Johannesburg – Pretoria Beit Bridge (Zimbabwe) 1,929 km
N2 Cape Town – Mossel Bay – Port Elizabeth – East London – Durban – Ermelo 2,230 km
N3 Durban – Johannesburg 578 km
N4 Labotse (Botswana) – Pretoria – Middelburg – Komatiepoort (Mozambique) 720 km
N5 Winburg – Bethlehem – Harrismith 227 km
N6 East London – Bloemfontein 540 km
N7 Cape Town – Springbok – Violindrif (Namibia) 665 km
N8 Groblershoop – Kimberley – Bloemfontein – Ladybrand (Lesotho) 588 km
N9 George – Colesberg 532 km
N10 Port Elizabeth – Middelburg – De Aar – Nakop (Namibia) 993 km
N11 Ladysmith – Ermelo – Mokopane – Groblersburg (Botswana) 777 km
N12 George – Kimberley – Johannesburg – Witbank 1,350 km
N14 Springbok – Pretoria 1,183 km
N17 Johannesburg – Ermelo – Oshoek (Swaziland) 338 km
N18 Warrenton – Ramatlabama (Botswana) 313 km

Signage

Highway Signage in South Africa.

Signage on regular roads.

The signage in South Africa has a European feel. Road signs are largely based on the signs laid down in the Vienna Convention and the wayfinding follows a pattern known from Europe. Motorways are signposted with white letters on a blue background, other roads are signposted with white letters on a green background. Incidentally, substandard highways count as non-motorways and are signposted in green. Service areas and tourist facilities (including golf courses) are in white text on brown signs.

The South African road numbers are consistently displayed on the signs in golden yellow plain text without a frame. In the past, special route signs were used: pentagons for N-roads, diamonds for R-roads and city-specific symbols for M-roads. These shields can still be found on older plates. At more important intersections, a wind direction is indicated after the road number with an italic letter: E/O for the east, S for the south, N for the north and W for the west.

In addition to the road number, the name of an intersecting road is often indicated on the signs to facilitate navigation. This is done in black small capital on a white background. The further used font is the German DIN1451.

Exits on motorways and sub-standard expressways are numbered using a distance-based system. Calculations are not so much based on the nearest kilometer marker, but in the distance from the provincial border. However, calculations are not made from the current provincial boundaries, but from the provincial boundaries as they applied until 1994. In that last year, the provincial boundaries were adjusted with the aim of bringing the then homelands back within the regular provinces. The number of provinces is now 9, compared to 4 before 1994. However, the exit numbering has not been adjusted since then. Exit numbering is no longer always correct in distances.

The situation has also not changed since 1994 with regard to language use on South African roads. Present-day South Africa has 11 official languages; however, on the signage only the “old” official languages ​​English and Afrikaans are used. In addition, it is usually the case that signs are not bilingual, but that one sign is in English and the next in Afrikaans; first reference is made to “Cape Town”, on a next sign it says “Cape Town”.

The South African system of signage has been imitated in the surrounding countries. It has become the basis for the Southern Africsn Development Community (SADC) Road Traffic Signs Manual. Countries such as Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana sign in the same way.

Road numbering

The N, R, P and T roads form one numbering system. The N roads are numbered 1 to 18, the R roads have numbers between 20 and 500 and the P and T roads have four digit numbers. Outside this integrated system are the M-roads, so-called Metroads or urban routes. Any city with M roads simply starts numbering at 1 and counts as far as it sees fit. In the city of Cape Town, about 60 M roads have even been designated. Some of them are dead simple two-lane roads through the city; others are four-lane motorway.

Toll

The electronic toll system E-toll has been introduced in South Africa. On December 3, 2013, the E-toll system in the Johannesburg region went into effect. This is one of the largest free-flow toll systems in the world.

Maximum speed

The speed limit in South Africa is 60 km/h in built-up areas and 120 km/h outside built-up areas. The maximum speed of 120 km/h applies on both motorways and national roads that have a single lane with oncoming traffic.

South Africa Road Network