Joe might be old but he has not aged a bit

Old Joe, the rock which watches over the N4 highway near Schoemanskloof, turns 90 years old this year and was given an old outfit back in celebration. This time the coat of paint Joe is donning has been worn before, back in 1969.


In 1927 workers discovered the rock and immediately thought it bore a likeness to Joe Barbas, their foreman who supervised the construction of the first road through the area.

Barbas was born in Hilversum in the Netherlands in 1883. He came to South Africa at the age of 19. He pursued many careers as a bookkeeper, teacher, farmer, army paymaster, road builder, insurance agent, shopkeeper, butcher, and tax collector. Whatever he did, there are records of his legacy as a likeable man.

Barbas died in 1974.

When the workers first found the rock, they first painted it white and labelled it “Joe”.

The rock soon became an icon for travellers. People stopped on their journeys to take photos with Old Joe. Legend has it that he looks after the road users of the N4 Toll Route, so it is important to hoot or wave to him when passing to ensure a safe journey.

In 1971, Joe was moved 10 metres to make way for the widening road. When the road was upgraded again in 2001, Joe was moved to where he stands today. This spot is about 500 metres from his previous place and more convenient for motorists to stop.

Well-known local artist Wouter de Witt, known as Ghost, has also applied his talent in bringing Joe to life over the years. Old Joe has been painted on many occasions relevant to the time, from a Springbok rugby player to a rhino in support of the anti-poaching campaign and even a minion.

Spokesperson for TRAC, Ms Solange Soares, stated that since Old Joe has crept into the hearts of all TRAC employees, and clearly many of the road’s users, TRAC wanted to make this anniversary special and allow Old Joe’s ardent fans to reminisce about days gone by.

After uncovering a photo of Old Joe from 1969, Ghost set to work on the transformation. It took Ghost approximately four hours to restyle Old Joe’s outfit, but the effort was certainly worth it.

Soares said TRAC was confident that the users of the N4 Toll Route will thoroughly enjoy Old Joe’s new (yet old) look and appreciate the historical meaning behind the rock.

Tereasa Dias

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