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'We will not be able to feed ourselves': Road Freight Association on SA's decaying networks

21 June 2021 - 15:51 By ernest mabuza
A flooded road leads up to the Clover cheese factory in the North West town of Lichtenburg. The Road Freight Association says roads like these are extremely important to the country. File photo.
A flooded road leads up to the Clover cheese factory in the North West town of Lichtenburg. The Road Freight Association says roads like these are extremely important to the country. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times

It is a misnomer to think that the only roads that matter are the beautiful multi-lane paved national roads, because rural roads are also extremely important.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) said this on Monday in response to a report by business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan that said more than half (54%) of SA's unpaved road network was in a poor to very poor condition.

The RFA said this was cause for concern.

The report also said about a third (30%) of the paved network was in poor to very poor condition.

Not only were paved and unpaved roads in danger of further degrading, there was also a significant backlog of roads that required rehabilitation — far above the available funding received by the provinces.

RFA CEO Gavin Kelly said while the paved national road network was exceptionally important, rural infrastructure got agricultural, mining and first-level manufactured goods to processing and manufacturing centres.

“Without these roads — and many of these are dirt [gravel] roads — we will not be able to feed ourselves,” Kelly said.

He said a well-maintained road network was critical for SA.

“Roads are the arteries of the country, allowing people and goods to move. They are crucial to the development of any nation and are the foundation to alleviating poverty and facilitating the move of individuals to better lives.”

Kelly said within towns and cities, roads allowed greater movement of society as well as the movement of crucial items.

“The recent stories in the media regarding the state of roads in a North West town which has led to a manufacturer relocating is a good example of how local roads are required to provide efficient, safe and reliable services [not just the mere use of the road surface].”

Kelly said maintenance and development of roads had been a long-festering sore in the eyes of the public — especially with the whole matter around the e-tolls in Gauteng.

“Roads must be maintained. Once they fall into disrepair the rate of crashes, incidents [and] accidents will increase, the cost of maintenance will spiral,” he said.

He said in the freight sector, those costs would be passed to the consumer.

He added that the reliability of services such as ambulance, police and firefighting would be rendered ineffective.

“The Frost & Sullivan report is cause for concern. The steady and continual downward trend of our roads needs to be reversed. The reasons for this trend need to be highlighted [which Frost & Sullivan did] and they need to be corrected.”

Kelly said authorities must be held accountable for roads under their care, and for the allocation of funds for roads which they receive. However, those funds were often spent elsewhere.

On the funding of roads, Kelly said the fuel levy, if it had been applied solely to roads in the manner required many years ago, would ensure that periodic maintenance would occur and the country would now not have such “devastated” roads.

“The fuel levy should be ring-fenced, allocated to Sanral, who can hold various road authorities accountable while also providing expertise, assistance in identifying reliable road contractors and engineering support.”

He said the portfolio committee on transport and a public oversight body, similar to the energy regulator, should then hold the transport minister accountable for the state of the roads and ensure that maintenance, repairs and development occurred as required.