In the often heated debate about a funding model for the Gauteng freeway system there is at least one issue on which all sides agree: there is a need for a world-class, well-maintained, national and provincial road network which can serve as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation in the economic hub of the southern African region.
We may differ on how to fund these roads – and who should pay for it – but most reasonable participants in the discourse agree that we cannot grow the economy, we cannot deliver essential services, we cannot create job opportunities and we cannot address the developmental challenges associated with inequality and poverty without a reliable road network as the backbone.
Against this background, I must welcome the solution that the national government and the Gauteng provincial government collectively arrived at regarding the challenges of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, following a process ably led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
I must also commend the Gauteng appointed advisory panel for its deliberations on this matter and for endorsing the user-pay principle – with the necessary cushion for the poor – which will also be used for the funding of future phases of the GFIP.
All of the major initiatives that will determine our country’s developmental trajectory over the next three to four decades are primarily dependent on the ability of the Department of Transport – and SANRAL as its implementing agency – to keep these roads in excellent shape and to facilitate the effective movement of people, products and services on these surfaces.
Our country’s R3.6 trillion investment in Strategic Infrastructure Projects is dependent on the quality of the road network to support mining development in Limpopo and the Northern Cape; revive the economies of small towns in the North West; create a mineral export hub in the port of Nqura on the eastern seaboard and accelerate the delivery of water and sanitation services to communities in the Western Cape.
Similarly the implementation of Operation Phakisa and its objectives to grow our “blue economy” and expand opportunities linked to marine activities along our country’s coastline will come to naught without a well-structured road infrastructure to link it to the inland economy.
The future growth of our economy is inextricably linked to our ability to maintain our road infrastructure. Plans to expand our harbour capacity and increase the volume of import and exports handled by our ports are being synchronised with the provision of quality roads to move these goods to and from inland destinations.
South Africa is ranked 30th in the world, according to its Gross Domestic Product, by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, SANRAL is responsible for the design, management and maintenance of part of the 10th largest road network on the globe. The National Development Plan, quite correctly, describes it as the country’s “largest, single public asset.
This network of 750 000km of roads must be properly maintained. Most roads have a lifespan of about 16 years before major rehabilitation work is required. Current estimates are that we have a backlog of R197 billion that must be allocated to meet the existing demand for maintenance.
The clarity of former President Nelson Mandela’s vision in 1998 to establish SANRAL as a national implementing agency to build, operate and maintain this vital resource becomes evident as South Africa increasingly depends on the quality of its transport infrastructure as a catalyst for growth.
Proof of the faith that national, provincial and local governments have in the engineering and project management abilities of SANRAL was again displayed recently by the decision that the agency should become responsible for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the Moloto Road that links Pretoria with communities in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The high rate of accidents on that stretch of provincial road and the duty to look after the safety of tens of thousands of commuters who travel on it by bus and taxis every day necessitated the need for the SANRAL’s professional intervention.
Another crucial issue highlighted by the e-toll discourse has been the need to expand the scope and improve the quality of public transport. As government we have identified the importance to address the current fragmented nature of public transport systems.
The National Development Plan recognises the reality that South Africa has a transport intensive economy. The management of this important national asset will require the highest degree of cooperation between national, provincial and local governments as well as the horizontal integration of other agencies and state-owned companies such as PRASA and Transnet with their intentions to grow passenger rail and switch the movement of freight from road to rail.
There is broad agreement on the need for good quality roads in our country. Such road should not only serve urban communities but also serve as catalysts for growth in our rural municipalities and contribute to balanced and equitable development.
Continuing investment in our national and provincial road network will remain a priority. And my hope is that the current discourse about the funding of roads has contributed to a greater public understanding about the need to keep this national asset in excellent condition.
Minister of Transport