Kristin Palitza
Kristin Palitza

Of parking metres and foreign languages…

I parked in the inner city of Durban the other day where there are parking meters installed everywhere — every 30 metres, I’ve been told by a local police officer. That makes it extremely expensive to park your car. Most of the time, I try to avoid them.

But last Friday I couldn’t steer clear of what I think is a major citizen hassle and a clever way of robbing people of their money. After finally spotting an empty parking bay, I found myself standing in front of one of those ticket machines (it actually turned out to be broken, but that’s a whole other story), not quite knowing which button to press to be told how much money I needed to insert.

Needless to say, I pressed the wrong one first. It brought me to the language menu, which offered the following three options:

  • Castellano (a Spanish dialect spoken in and around Barcelona)
  • Français (French)
  • English
  • No isiZulu, no Afrikaans, no other African language on offer.

    I was flabbergasted. Where in the world (literally) did the Durban municipality get these meters from? English, French and Spanish in combination — that smells European to me! The ‘Castellano’ clue leads me to suspect that they are perhaps discarded ones the city of Barcelona didn’t want anymore…

    But couldn’t the guys from Ethekwini have at least adjusted the language options? I don’t know for a fact but I reckon the percentage of South Africans speaking Catalan is rather negligible. And I highly doubt the French language option was chosen out of concern for our brothers and sisters from francophone Africa.

    Just imagine all of those for whom English is a second language, or who don’t speak English at all, standing in front of these parking meters, wracking their brains trying to figure out how to work them. And perhaps even getting traffic fines because they end up making a mistake and not getting a ticket for the right amount of time.

    What were they thinking? Were they thinking?

    • Brent

      What were they thinking, the answer is; they don’t think


    • Craig

      Guess you should stock up on Euros… :-)

    • mundundu

      um, sorry.

      castellano is simply spain-spanish. you’re confusing that with catalan. and i won’t forward this to any catalan speakers that i know, because i’m sure that that once they saw you called catalan a dialect of spanish, they would see to it that you never, ever got a visa for spain. [very strong regional pride, there]

      anyhow, really shabby writing on that bit.

      in any case, to the point of what you were getting at — so durban uses recycled meters. so what? they get parking meters on the cheap and they can use money for other things in the city.

      do you know how expensive translators are?

    • Kristin Palitza


      I’m afraid I don’t get your point. Are you really saying it is better that people in Durban, who are not English, French or Spanish speakers, remain unable to read and operate the city’s parking metres instead of having the municipality spend maybe a few hundred Rand on having the instructions translated?

      You obviously speak Spanish well, hence your initial comment about my wrong assumption re Catalan/Castellano, and are not personally affected by this, but maybe you should imagine yourself standing in front of your bank’s ATM, which has been shipped in cheaply from China and all instructions are in Chinese! Still thinking “so what?”

    • Mark

      I tend to agree with Kristin on this one.

      I don’t see how it is a logical move having parking meters that offer different language to the ones spoken locally.

      The meters are so badly designed these days, that they need to have step by step instructions just to be operated. What happened to the simple coin operated ones we used to have?

      Remember the days… Simply drop in a coin, turn the knob on the back of the meter, and a very easy to read needle would simply countdown along an easy to read timer.

      This is another case of technology making things more complicated, the exact opposite of what it was put there to do.

      On the other hand, I agree with Mundundu’s sentiments about getting second hand equipment at a better price. A the end of the day, if it does the job, the cheaper the better…

      But certainly NOT at the detriment of the public.

    • mundundu

      kristin —

      i translate [among other things] for a living. finding good translators [emphasis on good] to do sensible translation is Not Cheap, even for the “standard set” of languages; ie the most commonly translated languages — the UN’s 6 official languages, plus five or six others.

      getting someone who just so happens to speak a language to do the translation can lead to, erm, some messes, q.v. the poor xhosa translations throughout the western cape.

      but, now that i think about it, i’m surprised that they still have parking meters in durban. here in cape town there’s a swarm of people in orange vests who you pay and they give you a slip. while the tender for this company was given out under dubious circumstances, it is a nice make-work proposition for people who would be otherwise unemployed.

      maybe durban should look into it. and, um, the attendants probably would likely to speak zulu, which was the point around which you were dancing.

      mark is right, though. if we *are* going to have meters, we should just have the old ones in which you drop a coin and turn a knob and that is that. the flat-panel push-buttons model is… blah.

    • SunkenShip

      LOL! This writer is getting Castellano and Cataln mixed up.

      Castellano = Castillian. Otherwise known as plain ol’ Spanish to the rest of the world.

      Catalan = A minority Romance language spoken in Catalonia, a region of Spain in which Barcelona resides.

    • Dr Latib

      Eish! Another example of the Traffic Authorities doing their job: “Stealing the public’s money”, lucky for me i got hold of that Traffic Fines Toolkit recently and starting to get back by getting my fines cancelled, I should ask Joe (the guy who wrote it) to do one for these parking meters as well, check it out here: