How the Pothole Patrol is patching up Joburg's crumbling road network

12 May 2021 - 10:08
The Pothole Patrol in action.
The Pothole Patrol in action.
Image: Supplied

The misfortune of whacking a pothole is one that most South Africans know all too well. That violent and unexpected thud followed by agonising over the prospect of rim, tyre and suspension repair bills.    

This week we tagged along on an outing with the Pothole Patrol, an initiative undertaken by insurers Discovery and Dialdirect, aiming to help the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) and Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) in its mandates to maintain the highways and byways of the city.    

Project manager Andile Ndabula of Jetpatcher, service provider tasked with the contract, talked (and gave an impressive demonstration) of a day in the life of the team.    

“It takes about 10 minutes to patch a pothole and the unit aims to attend to as many as 100 in a daily shift,” he says.   

Depending on who you ask, there are more than 48,000 such road failures (the term includes imperfections beyond potholes) in the city. Pothole Patrol is a two-year campaign.   

The programme was first launched by Dialdirect 10 years ago. The official re-launch happened at an event in Lenasia last week, which Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo attended.

“It is important to note that due to the vast expanse of the city’s road infrastructure and the backlog created over time through various reasons, including an increase in road traffic and worsening weather conditions, it may take time for a logged pothole to be repaired,” said Makhubo.

Pothole Patrol plans to alleviate this backlog.    

Witnessing the process out in the field proved fascinating. It begins by taking a high-pressure, industrial-grade hose to the pothole, to clear out dust and debris.    

Project manager Andile Ndabula of Jetpatcher.
Project manager Andile Ndabula of Jetpatcher.
Image: Supplied

A bitumen emulsion is then poured into the hole, sealing it, before being pummelled with a half-ton roller machine, compacting the surface.    

“A dust aggregate is applied so that the bitumen does not stick to vehicles’ tyres and while the surface is immediately ready for use, it takes about 24 hours to fully cure,” explains Ndabula.    

The JRA is responsible for dispatching Pothole Patrol to areas in need around the city. An application on a hand-held device points out areas of concern on a map, and the team inspects and conducts the necessary repairs.    

Ndabula is a civil engineer by profession, since 2007. He is 41 years old and is originally from the Eastern Cape.

“It makes me happy to see something that was broken, being fixed. I like seeing changes – renovation, so to speak, because we are renovating our roads. Functioning infrastructure is essential to the growth of our country.”    

According to Anneli Retief, head of Dialdirect, the company is developing a smartphone application through which citizens can flag potholes for attention.    

Meanwhile, Discovery Insure CEO Anton Ossip said that Pothole Patrol was a proactive measure that would make people safer.