Potholes still a pain for SA’s roads


Potholes on the country’s roads have dramatically increased in the last five years, with estimates indicating that presently there are approximately 25 million potholes on roads across the country – 10 million more than in 2017. 

This data was revealed at the 7th South African Roads Federation (Sarf) Regional Conference of Africa, which took place in Cape Town on Tuesday, according to the South African National Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) statement.

Inadequate maintenance of road infrastructure and lack of political will were identified as the main reasons why the problem has accelerated in the last few years, with massive cost implications for not only road users but for business and ultimately, the economy. 

According to Sanral it costs between R700 and R1 500/km2 to fix a single pothole, depending on its size.

The state-owned entity further notes that a delay in fixing the hazardous road depressions could drive up repair costs by 18 times in cases where full road rehabilitation becomes necessary. 

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Progress made

In August the Department of Transport launched a national campaign focused on combating potholes across the country called Operation Vala Zonke, with Sanral acting as the implementing agency. 

In the last 10 weeks, the campaign is said to have fixed 112 699 potholes in Johannesburg, 28 578 in the North West, 25 431 in Limpopo and a further 16 540 in the Free State. 

Former Sarf president Mutshutshu Nxumalo pointed out that perhaps not enough of government spend is being allocated to addressing the issue, adding that the 5% allocated from the national fiscus is not adequate to maintain the country’s greatest asset. 

“Sanral is doing good work, but [it] can’t do it on [its] 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. 

“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.” 

The state of the country’s roads has deteriorated so much in the last few years that private players in the insurance industry have had to step in because of the impact road-related accident claims were having on their balance sheets. 

In May 2021, Discovery Insure started an initiative to repair potholes in Johannesburg through a public-private partnership with the City of Johannesburg and Dialdirect Insurance. In February, the partnership – under the name Pothole Patrol – said it had already filled almost 80 000 potholes in the country’s economic hub. 

The partnership seems to be working, as earlier this year the Department of Transport expressed its intentions to develop a new policy that would effectively allow more private players to carry out the government’s role of maintaining critical infrastructure.

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Joburg’s Weltevreden Park residents fix potholes themselves for R10k (Apr 2021)

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