SANRAL to invest R1,2 billion in one of the poorest areas in South Africa
Eastern Cape, 29 November 2022 – Residents in Cedarville, in the Matatiele Municipality, have welcomed the R1.2-billion project by the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited to upgrade the R56 road that links the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
The prospects of opportunities for jobs, learning new skills and earning a living have excited residents in villages around Matatiele. A total of R360-million would be ring-fenced and spent on local contractors, subcontractors and service providers, with an emphasis on women and youth.
Hundreds of community members gathered at Cedarville Multi-Purpose Sport Complex yesterday for the official introduction of the main contractor, Down Touch Investment, and to hear for themselves from SANRAL and other government officials how they would benefit from the project that has already been described as a “game changer” for the economy of the region.
Down Touch Investment, a South African company, was awarded the contract on 31 October 2022. The project entails rehabilitation, upgrading and widening the R56 from Matatiele to KwaZulu Natal border with Eastern Cape – a total of about 38 km.
Work on the project is expected to start in March 2023 and would run for three years and seven months. It is estimated that it would create more than 500 jobs and more than 100 local small and medium contractors will benefit from the project.
Both Cedarville and Matatiele are in the jurisdiction of the Alfred Nzo District Municipality, the smallest and one of the poorest districts in the province of Eastern Cape and the whole of South Africa.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula told the gathering that the project would create jobs, lead to upskilling of young people, women and people with disabilities.
Mbalula said everything would be put in place to ensure that legitimate local businesses were the main beneficiaries of the project.
His sentiments were echoed by Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, who said the local people have been yearning for such a huge project.
“This project is an important game-changer. This is one of the poorest areas in all of South Africa, yet it has so much potential. This area is our foremost agricultural industrial hub and we need to invest in the local infrastructure.
“We need to bring greener pastures here so that our youth will not go and languish in towns and cities to look for greener pastures. This is one of the projects that will bring greener pastures closer to our people,” Mabuyane said.
He urged local people to jealously guard this project from construction mafia who are intent at derailing the project for their own selfish interests. “This project must be on time and on budget,” he added.
James Luthuli, a councillor for Ward 26, said the road upgrade would lessen the high levels of accidents and they have been assured that SANRAL would build bridges so that people and livestock do not cross the road and disrupt traffic.
Clive Arries, SANRAL’s project manager for the R56 upgrade, said everything was done to ensure that local communities and local businesses associations were consulted and were on board throughout the course of the project.
He said once the upgrade has been completed, traffic would move smoothly.
“This is one of our biggest projects. I think it is long overdue. Back in 2015 we appointed consultants to design and make a drawing and other specifications. It took them about two years. In 2017 we were ready to advertise this contract. There were many other hiccups and later there was a delay because of COVID-19. The commencement date is in March but the contractor will be on site in late January and start consulting with other stakeholders and community members.
The managing director of Down Touch Investment, Michael Welsh, said his company was confident of delivering on the project on time and on budget.
“This is one of the most critical roads of the country and we understand the urgency of getting ready and on standard in time so that we minimise disruption of traffic.“We are going to be sourcing most of the workers from the local communities. It is only the specialist skills that we are going to be sourcing from elsewhere,” he said.
Mama Greta Mfene, a 64-year-old resident of Cedarville, said many people in her area were poor and unemployed. “Our people must benefit, our people must get job opportunities. There are many young people who are losing hope of getting employment. They end up doing drugs and alcohol and teenage girls end up getting pregnant. We hope that this project will change all of this because our youth will get job opportunities. Yanda Nkomo, a 28-year-old resident, said she has lived all her life in the area but has not seen any project that would employ locals.
“I hope that I will get a job here so that I can look after my child and also assist in supporting my family,” she said.