Free State farmers are not only coughing up millions to fix dilapidated roads in the province, they are also paying a personal price for it. Vehicle maintenance are costing them thousands every few months.
Vorster Zeilinga, production manager at Zeilinga Boerdery in Harrismith, tells Food For Mzansi their vehicles now have to be repaired every third months.
Currently, Zeilinga transports his farmworkers to and from his farm with his less than five-month-old Kia K2700 bakkie. During this time, he has had to replace the brake calipers of the bakkie three times already.
“The impact is enormous. Car tyres last about 30 000km in our region, if you are lucky. I recently had to replace two truck tyres and one tyre cost me R5 620,” he says.
Zeilinga adds that many Free State farmers face a similar fate. He believes road conditions have worsened to such an extent that contractors are refusing to pick up farmers’ stock. “They say the roads are too bad. So, you see we can’t even get our produce from the farm to our markets.”
Not just farmers are affected
Besides farmers, the local communities are also affected, says Zeilinga.
“Recently, a school bus had to stop in front of a ditch and unload the children because the road was too bad. The children then had to fill the ditch with stones so that the bus could continue driving and take them to school.”
Free State Agriculture (FSA) maintains that road infrastructure is the worst in the north-east parts of of the province.
Operations manager Jack Armour says the critically important Heilbron to Sasol roads are riddled with potholes. Farmers are reliant on these roads to gain access to Gauteng.
FSA says in the Thabo Mofutsanyana district a group of five farmers spent more than R1 million a year to keep roads passable.
If the farmers did not do this, they would not be able to deliver their grain, horticulture and livestock products to markets.
Meanwhile, research by Frost and Sullivan reveals that more than half of South Africa’s dirt roads are in a poor to very poor condition. Farmers say the longer it is left in this condition, the more expensive it is to repair.
Farmers cough up R6 million
A recent FSA survey reveals that farmers in the province have already spent R6 million to repair provincial and municipal roads in 2021 alone.
FSA president Francois Wilken believes this is due to a lack of government capacity and inability to repair roads.
Wilken says, “The six million figure is far below the actual cost incurred. A lot of work has been done on roads by farmers that has not even been reported.”
If costs, production time losses, wear and tear on equipment, vehicle repairs, etc., were all taken into account, the amount would have been much higher,” says Wilken.
According to FSA, they have written multiple letters to local government structures to address the structural problems in the department. However, this has not brought any success.