The main roads and highways are generally maintained in an good condition, and are straight, long and fast. There are very few roads in South Africa where you would need a 4WD. Even in the self-drive National Parks and safari areas such as Kruger or Hluhluwe, the roads are good and a 2WD can adequately cope with the odd bit of unevenness.
Many of the major main road are toll roads, in order to help maintain them in their present good condition. Tolls range from a few Rand to over R50, and you can pay either by cash, or some toll booths will take Visa or MasterCard credit cards. The toll roads are clearly signposted, and give you plenty of warning, so that you can get your money ready. However, if you do not feel like parting with any money, you can always take the alternative route which will be signposted as a non-toll road, but in general this will be longer. Many hire car companies also now fit their vehicles with an automatic toll reader, so the car captures the toll fees instead and these are billed back to you at the end of the rental period.
Road Signs And Robots
Something else to be aware of during your self-drive holiday through South Africa is the erractic nature of road signs, and the inconsistencies between them and the published road maps.
You may think that the route you are about to embark on is easy to follow, but certainly in the more remote areas, roads suddenly appear that are not marked on maps, the road numbers and town names are completely different from what you are expecting, or road signs suddenly stop altogether.
Given this, it is not uncommon that you may need to ask for directions at a petrol station or in a town, and if this happens you may be surprised to get the response "turn left at the next robot...". You have not suddenly been transported into a Star Wars film: a 'robot' is the South African term for traffic lights.
I'm sure we were not the first or last visitors to be disappointed that we were not taking directions from R2D2...so these are not the droids you are looking for.
People and Animals
Outside of town areas, it is a common sight to see people walking along the side of the roads, especially schoolchildren who sometimes have a long journey on foot to get to and from their school.
In addition, livestock are generally not fenced in, and have a tendency to wander wherever they feel like. Don't be surprised to go over a hill or round a bend in a road to find a herd of cows crossing the road in front of you, or several goats grazing right at the roadside.
During the day, it is easy to see and avoid people and animals, but at night it is more difficult, and extra care should be taken.