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Joburg's long, winding road to ruin


We seem to be a fickle bunch. When the weather is sweltering hot, we complain and ask for rain. When it rains and thunders relentlessly, we moan and pray for sunlight again.

While the rain may be doing some good as it replenishes our rivers and dams, there is no denying the havoc it’s wrecking on our roads.

It seems like there is a new pothole at every turn. Tyre and mag repair companies must be rubbing their hands with glee, but for the ordinary South African, the state of our roads has become a sad affair.

The heavy rains have helped do its part in damaging Gauteng roads, but Howard Dembovsky, chairman of Justice Project South Africa, believes the increased traffic flow on alternative routes have caused more damage than the weather. This comes as more motorists seek different ways of getting to work to avoid e-tolls. While I have to agree the increased traffic flow and relentless rain are contributors towards our road woes, the fact remains that a large network of our roads hasn’t been properly maintained for nearly a decade.

The actual infrastructure is crumbling, as these roads weren’t constructed to handle the large volumes they see today. South Africa’s road system is comprised of a total road network of approximately 534 000km of urban and rural roads, with a large majority of this being sand or dirt. The mismanagement of funds has led to our current dilemma.

Every day when I leave the office, the road going home has literally changed like desert sand. It has become unrecognisable. Where there wasn’t a pothole in the morning, there is now a large crater and the debris from said crater is littered all over the road. People swerve to miss potholes, drive on pavements or have to find a new way to work because the entire road has collapsed into a massive sinkhole. Transport trucks are damaging residential roads as they now also commute through suburban areas. The question is: where do we go from here? Once the rains stop, local government will send out repair teams who might hastily repair the potholes.

Of course, if history has taught us anything, these repaired jobs won’t survive another dose of Joburg thundershowers. The patch-and-repair system is no longer sustainable, particularly because a lot more motorists are now using these roads daily. What we need is a makeover and full-scale upgrade of our road network. The problem is, however, that there aren’t available funds for these upgrades. So with every drop of rain, we get pushed further and further into a third-world state.

Understandably motorists are fuming. The majority of their salaries now probably go to transport costs like fuel and maintenance fees. Then Government decides to slap e-tolls on top of this, so old poor Joe Soap commutes to work, hits a massive pothole and destroys his bumper, mag wheel and tyre. Where is he supposed to find the excess funds to fix his pride and joy so that he can get to work the next day to try and make his monthly bread and butter?

As a law-abiding citizen, Joe Soap is being ripped off. While he does his part to ensure that South Africa keeps ticking over by paying his bills on time, Government is failing him by not providing the services he pays for.

Over the weekend I had to endure conversations with friends, each having a good moan about the state of the roads and the risks they now endure every day to get to work.

Sanral announced last week in a press statement that over 1.2 million road users have to date registered for e-tags. Many of us feel this figure is largely distorted. As Dembovsky points out, “A figure of more than 10 000 registrations per day, every single day in the month of February, is simply too difficult to swallow, no matter how Sanral chooses to spin it.”

Whatever the real figure may be, Sanral owes it to motorists and workers of South Africa to keep the roads in a usable condition, as transport acts as a backbone for our economy and as we see the roads crumble, we see the economy taking a massive knock. As South Africans, we have a lot to be grumpy about: the rising fuel costs, Rand/Dollar exchange and roads that are in disarray. Throw into the mix load shedding and the fact that most robots don’t work on a daily basis and you realise why we are close to having an aneurysm.

Maybe it’s just the wet weather that is making us like this and smiles will prevail soon? But somehow I don’t think so.

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