Massive sinkhole on Mpumalanga road is crippling local businesses

12 May 2019 - 00:00 By GRAEME HOSKEN

A massive sinkhole on an important arterial road in Mpumalanga is slowly crippling mining and farming activity in the small surrounding towns.
The R555 linking Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to the Mpumalanga towns of eMalahleni and Mbombela and the N4 and N12 highways is, according to transport companies, critical for transporting coal to Kendal and Kusile power stations and explosives to mines.
But now, due to a sinkhole 80m wide and 10m deep, truck drivers often have to drive an additional 200km a day to deliver and collect their loads, increasing transport companies' fuel and maintenance bills by millions of rands.
Locals say the hole started to develop in late 2017.
The provincial government has been accused of failing to complete repairs on the sinkhole on the R555 between Delmas and Argent, with workers apparently walking off site over pay disputes.
Affected communities, through the Society for the Protection of our Constitution, are now contemplating taking the Mpumalanga government to court over the delays.
Stephan Enslin, who manages Dawn Carriers, a company that transports chemicals to coal mines, said the delays and extra distances were hurting business.
"We run 30 trucks. Our fuel and maintenance bill has increased by R4m annually. With the diversion route each truck, which does multiple trips, drives an additional 100km per trip.
"Our contract prices are fixed so we foot the extra costs. If we didn't have these extra costs, we could employ at least 10 more people.
"For months there has been no work on the sinkhole. No-one from government can tell us when the repairs will be complete or why the first contractor left."
Maize and poultry farmer Eugene Coetsee said his transport costs had spiralled.
"Our chickens are transported to abattoirs in Delmas and Sundra. A trip that usually takes 15 minutes is now 45 minutes. This has been going on since the end of 2017."
Pieter Blignaut, manager of the explosives transport company BME, said its 10 trucks were each driving an additional 300km a day to reach clients.
"The problem we now have is that the alternative routes are falling apart. Already, from these alternative routes, we have to service our vehicles more frequently.
"We spend an extra R30,000 per truck per year servicing our trucks. With what we have spent since 2017, we could have employed four more people."
Argent business person Abu Baker Omar, who is a member of the Society for the Protection of our Constitution, said the delays were crippling businesses.
"The society is contemplating bringing an application to court. Our intention is to have the road opened and reduce costs of doing business in the area. Getting a money judgment against a broke municipality and roads department will not solve much."
Mpumalanga public works, roads & transport department spokesperson Mxolisi Dlamini said the repairs, which would cost R42m, were delayed because of "technical challenges" and restrictions around the excavations.
He said the construction site was established a year ago but for work to begin, certain permissions about how the repairs were to be carried out had to be obtained from the environmental affairs department.
"Other challenges were around cash flow problems experienced by the first contractor, Ntsangalala Holdings. This led to site workers not being paid on time, which caused further disruptions. At no point has the department delayed payment or compromised the contractor's performance," he said.
He denied allegations that Ntsangalala staff abandoned the site.
"Ntsangalala Holdings ceded the remaining works to another contractor in March. The department approved the cessation. Ntsangalala Holdings remains liable for the project's delivery." He said the project, which is five months behind schedule, will be completed in September.
Ntsangalala director Stella Mashego disputed allegations of delays. "We were only awarded the 12-month project in September 2018 and are on track to complete it."

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