In what could be termed a ’promise fulfilled’, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga led a Ministerial Imbizo in Standerton, Mpumalanga on Monday. [5 February]

Her visit was in response to a commitment she made last year when she officially declared the takeover of the R23 through town to form part of a national road in the Government Gazette No. 49656.

Flanked by South African National Road Agency Limited (SANRAL) board chairperson, Themba Mhambi, and Mpumalanga MEC of Public Works, Roads and Transport Mandla Ndlovu, the colourfully dressed Chikunga cut the ribbon on the newly refurbished R23 road, signaling the official opening and handing over of the ‘smart’ facility to the provincial government.

This was accompanied by sounds of jubilation from various stakeholders, which included district and local executive mayors, councilors, taxi bosses and leaders of state-owned enterprises.
The National Department of Transport’s Deputy Director-General (DDG) responsible for road transport, Chris Hlabisa – who was the programme director for the event – said the R23 road project was a commendable effort to enhance transportation infrastructure in Mpumalanga.

“This road plays a pivotal role in local and regional connectivity, and its recent completion in April 2023 signifies progress in improving transportation links and accessibility. It starts in Gauteng and ends in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal,” said Hlabisa.

Proud SANRAL CEO, Reginald Demana, said: “This is a typical SANRAL constructed world class road project where we went out into the market and got engineers to design and construct the road.

“Once the designs were received and approved by SANRAL, we allocated a budget and ran an open tender process to get a contractor; in this instance it was the Raubex Group, which was in a joint venture with an emerging company and subcontracted some of the work to local SMMEs.”

Demana said the project employed about 340 people, with 300 of them being locals, while 52 SMMEs with significant Grade 1 and 2 enterprises executing the work.
He added that SANRAL’s success was based on a 25-year-old track record of executing projects within time and on budget.

“Our model is anchored on the principle that we do not make advance payments to contractors. Rather people do their work, we check the quality and pay for work done,” he said.

Meanwhile, Executive Mayor Delani Thabethe, who could not withhold his excitement, said a single call and several engagements that started early in 2022 by the Lekwa Local Municipality with SANRAL, the National Department of Transport, Premier’s Office in Mpumalanga, the Department of Public Works, and the Gert Sibande District Municipality, had finally produced positive results.

The handover of the completed R23 national road project delighted various stakeholders in the Province of the Rising Sun – Mpumalanga.

Thabethe said what excited him were further engagements between the municipality and the National Department of Transport, which would see SANRAL taking over other critical roads from the municipality.

These included, among others, the R50 (next to Early Bird), R39 and other streets that previously belonged to national and provincial governments, enabling the municipality to direct its limited financial resources to internal streets in town and all its residential areas.

“SANRAL has officially implemented maintenance on our critical roads and has patched potholes on roads used by taxis that transport commuters daily as part of the department’s commitment to fast-track the delivery of critical road infrastructure across the country and in line with operation Vala Zonke,” he said, adding that the municipality was happy with the progress and pace at which SANRAL is moving in making those streets drivable and more convenient for road users.

SANRAL manages about 2400km of road infrastructure across the Mpumalanga Province. There are also imminent plans to resurface the R35 road.

Following the handover, Chikunga spearheaded an inspection tour of the R50, demonstrating the comprehensive approach being taken to ensure the roads meet national standards for safety and efficiency.

In a further commitment to community involvement and transparency, the Minister hosted a session at the local Sakhile Stadium, encouraging residents to engage directly with government representatives such as Department of Home Affairs, the Independent Electoral Commission, the Road Accident Fund, and others who had set up information stations outside the main marquee from which the event was held.

This pivotal occasion marked a significant milestone in the government’s ongoing efforts to enhance the country’s road network and facilitating safer travel, which will prevent accidents such as the one two days before Christmas last year in which a minibus taxi and a light motor vehicle collided head-on along the R23 Road between Val and Standerton, resulting in the loss of four lives – three adult males and one male child.

A concerned Chikunga, who earlier pulled up her sleeves and gave a pothole her personal signature while using a mechanised potholes machine – a jetpatcher, which is apparently only in use in Mpumalanga – warned those involved in so-called construction mafia criminal activities such as demanding money from preferred contractors.

“I must warn you that it is criminal, and you are going to rot in jail if we catch you,” she said.

Chikunga also called on residents to refrain from burning tyres on the tar roads during service delivery protests.

“It cost the municipality, and consequently you as the rate payers millions if not billions of rands to restore the roads,” she said.

The Minister also boasted about the Operation Vala Zonke project, which has so far repaired 1.9 million potholes, which were reported via its War Room.

She said she was proud that the R23 road project had created job opportunities, skills transfers and given the SMME’s an opportunity to improve on their gradings.