oa South African Journal of Cultural History - The mechanical wonder of the century: Godsend or curse?

Volume 13, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-3053



The centenary of the motor car was celebrated everywhere in South Africa in 1997. On 4 January 1997 it was precisely one hundred years ago that the first motor car in South Africa was demonstrated to President S.J.P. Kruger by John Percy Hess at Berea Park in Pretoria. Little did Hess and all the bystanders that day realize just how that ""invention of the age"" would irrevocably change the lives of the ordinary man in South Africa within the next thirty years. It is not how the vehicle itself has changed that makes its history so compelling, but rather how much it has changed us. The car is arguably the greatest catalyst of social change that the world has ever known. It has always been much more than a machine, much more than a mere means of transport and there is no aspect of our lives, be it political, social, cultural, economic or aesthetic, that has not been touched or deeply influenced by it. The aim of this article is to look at dramatic changes which the motor vehicle has brought about in South Africa in the past one hundred years.

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