Siyabonga Africa

Siyabonga Africa

Blame big business, especially the mines, for the poor state of the country's roads, says the South African Institution for Civil Engineering.

And our potholed roads will soon become so bad they will be beyond repair, says Dawie Botha, the group's executive director.

He blames the shocking state of the roads on the massive lorries transporting goods, especially minerals such as coal and iron.

As the country's once-proud rail system faded from the scene, bulk transport of minerals by road has became the norm over the past 10 years.

"The roads were not designed to carry such heavy lorries," he said. "At this point rehabilitation and maintenance is no longer an option."

The situation is so bad that the Automobile Association (AA) estimates it would cost the government more than R200billion to restore South Africa's road network.

"Potholes are becoming the norm. The roads weren't built to carry large loads and over the past three to four years they've begun to crumble," said AA spokesman Gary Ronald.

"We pay taxes and toll fees, but what happens to that money? What do they do with it?"

Executive director of the South African Roads Federation (SARF), Malcolm Mitchell, says potholes cost drivers billions of rands a year.

"Potholes cost South African taxpayers R20billion a year for car damage alone. If you were to add accidents resulting from potholes the figure could treble to between R50billion and R60billion," Mitchell said.

Eskom's generating woes have been compounded by its problems with shipping coal to power plants in Mpumalanga over the province's notoriously potholed roads. Ironically, many were caused by trucks hauling coal to its power stations.

The company will have to use a stream of 900 trucks working day and night over the next two years to feed power stations in Mpumalanga.

Alex Visser, a professor at the University of Pretoria's civil engineering department, said twice as many trucks would have to be brought into service if productivity dropped because of the state of the roads. But this would harm everyone, from consumers to taxpayers, who would pay for the additional damage to roads in taxes and increased prices.

Civil engineer Botha said that roads in coal-rich areas such as Ermelo were already in an "atrocious" state.

National Transport Department spokesman Collen Msibi said the government had started a three-year R70billion programme to fix roads.

"Budget was an issue before, but now we have a framework in place that will see money being distributed to those roads that need it most," he said.

The AA's Ronald said potholes were encountered mostly on municipal and provincial roads.

CC McKay, of the Johannesburg Roads Agency, reassured motorists last week that the city planned to fix the ever-more-dangerous potholes that have affected drivers since the beginning of the rainy season.

Yet Ronald wasn't optimistic about the local and regional governments' efforts to repair potholed roads.

"All they do is monitor the roads and then do nothing about it. I could do that. The AA publishes many reports on the state of the roads that are not repaired," he said. "Warning signs [about potholes on regional and national roads] that the government has implemented are not effective."

The National Transport Department, however, feels confident it is serving motorists adequately.

"Our research found it's not potholes that cause vehicle accidents, it's the drivers who violate traffic rules," said Msibi.

Netcare 911 spokesman Mark Stokoe agreed that accidents were seldom a direct result of potholes. But ER24 spokesman Riana Beech felt potholes played a more sinister role in South Africa's accident rate.

"Though we don't have figures to prove this, potholes make it more difficult to drive than in normal circumstances.

"When potholes fill with water drivers can't see them and when they do they swerve to avoid them. This can lead to accidents.

"When emergency services try to reach accidents we have to look out for potholes on top of other obstacles. Potholes make life more difficult."

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