Potholes in the spotlight at SARF Regional Conference

Potholes in the spotlight at SARF Regional Conference

Western Cape, 18 October 2022 – South Africa has a whopping 25 million potholes in its countrywide roads network, compared to 15 million five years ago.

The main reason for this is inadequate maintenance, which results in a vicious cycle that creates even deeper holes in the pockets of the administering authorities. It currently costs between R700 and R1 500 per square metre to fix one pothole, depending on its size. The lack of maintenance increases the repair costs by 18 times if a full rehabilitation of a road is deemed necessary.

These eye-watering facts and figures were revealed at the 7th South African Roads Federation (SARF) Regional Conference for Africa which started in Cape Town on Tuesday. Leading road experts and decision-makers from across the continent and the globe are sharing their knowledge at the gathering, which firmly puts the spotlight on Africa.

In August, the national Department of Transport launched Operation Vala Zonke, a national campaign aimed at eradicating potholes across the country, with the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL) as the implementing agency.The initiative has reported significant success in most provinces in just 10 weeks. As figures come in, Johannesburg has already fixed and filled an impressive 112 699 potholes, North West Province 28 578, Limpopo Province 25 431 and the Free State has 16 540 fewer potholes, thanks to Operation Vala Zonke.

Former SARF president, Mutshutshu Nxumalo, said while our road network was one of the country’s greatest assets, a mere 5% was allocated to it from the national fiscus. “SANRAL is doing good work, but they can’t do it on their own. There is an imbalance between the understanding of what needs to be achieved and the political will. We have legislation but the wrong leadership,” Nxumalo said.

He said the fallout from inadequate road maintenance was “far-reaching and disastrous” – putting public safety at risk, causing the destruction of transport routes, disrupting movement of goods, negatively impacting tourism and resulting in major claims from the Road Accident Fund.

“Our roads go through their lifespan without maintenance which eventually leads to bigger problems. Our potholes, specifically, are caused by a delay in the response to fixing them timeously,” Nxumalo said.

Professor Philip Paige-Green, of the Tshwane University’s Engineering Department, said there was much more to the issue than just filling potholes. “There was a study released by the CSIR in 2010 that details the approach we should be taking to deal with potholes. But little of what was proposed has been implemented on our provincial, urban and district roads. It’s simple, if they aren’t fixed properly, they won’t last.”

He cited an example of a road on which potholes were fixed for decades, but they kept recurring.

“What no one seemed to notice is that there was lush green grass right next to the road, which meant there was a water source. This is not rocket science, it should be clear to understand that any filling of potholes here wouldn’t work without taking care of the water source,” he said.

The roads conference runs until Thursday.