The month of January has seen many areas of South Africa experiencing heavy rains that have raised alarms, especially in the coastal areas and low-lying areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Due to the ongoing rainy season, farmers have had to deal with potholes and wet and muddy roads.
“In most towns, whether it is your metropolitan towns or your big towns, the quality of the roads is not good at all,” said Thandeka Mabasa from the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa). “The situation was a bit difficult, especially with the heavy rains that most of the country has experienced recently.”
According to Mabasa, one only needs to look at the roads to fully understand the inappropriate state they are in, and this has become a challenge to South African farmers who use main roads and sometimes smaller roads that lead to the rural network.
Potholes are the biggest problem
Due to the poor quality of the roads, travelling time to a certain point takes longer than usual.
Farmers mostly need to drive carefully on pothole-dominated roads and matters get worse during heavy rains. They then have to be extra careful to avoid collisions with vehicles using the same roads.
“The time it now takes farmers to get to the point of delivery is long, and it has an impact on the quality of the produce,” she said.
Mabasa confirmed that the department of transport has reached out to farmers, encouraging them to share the coordinates of the location for them to find the roads that need to be fixed.
No time to wait
She says farmers do not have the luxury of waiting for the rain to subside nor waiting for potholes to be fixed, and they sometimes have to drive in dangerous conditions.
“Farming is a business. Whether it is raining or load shedding, whether it is drizzling or pouring, we must make do with what we have. There is no luxury of waiting and trying to avoid the risk.”
She explained to Food For Mzansi that some farmers who have been able to raise the funds, were able to take initiative and mend the roads themselves, however, not all farmers have been able to afford that, especially small-scale farmers.
Lack of road infrastructure maintenance
A farmer in Johannesburg, who has requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of victimisation, has expressed his frustration with the potholes on the roads, owing their existence to the lack of maintenance of infrastructure in the area.
“The conditions of the road are poor because the edges of the road are not maintained. The runoff forms the rain and then ends up on the main road and this causes potholes,” he said. “There used to be people who came and graded down the edges, but they don’t do that anymore!”
He explained that the cisterns under the road have not been cleaned out and when the rain comes, the cisterns fill up quickly because the water flow has not been directed correctly, thus leading to the flooding of the main road.
“If they maintain the edges of the road, they wouldn’t have this problem. The issue is not the rain, the runoff infrastructure that helps with the water flow is blocked.”
With frustration audible in his voice, the farmer took stock of all the damage to his vehicles. He’s also had multiple burst tyres due to deep potholes and he has had to use the same roads, even on rainy days, he added.
“You just have to drive and damage more tyres, more equipment, more trailers and suffer the consequences afterwards,” he said.
The dangers that come with it
Maureen Chisane who works on an agritourism farm in Johannesburg, said she survived driving in the heavy rains all by herself because she had to make an urgent delivery she could not avoid.
“The rain was really bad recently and it even damaged our crops,” she said.
“Once I even said a prayer to God when I was driving on the road to Westonaria to make a delivery which is about 50 minutes, and it was raining so hard. I am just grateful that I came back alive.”
Chisane said she had figured out a way to keep produce fresh while making long-distance trips to either Lenasia or Westonaria, explaining that she had no better option but to make the trips longer in order to keep the product safe on the uneven roads.
“I have to wake up early and make vegetable deliveries, like spinach and cabbage, before the sun is out so that they stay fresh. And then, if I have to deliver fruit like peaches or apricots, then I have to drive in the afternoon just so that the long trips on the road do not damage the produce,” she said.
‘Ditches’ rather than potholes
Luvuyo Gadu, a crop farmer from the KULTURE farm in the Eastern Cape, said the conditions of the roads are not only bad but very dangerous. He described the potholes in the roads near him as “ditches” rather than potholes and because of them, he had found himself in danger countless times.
“Every single time it rains it gets worse, especially when it’s raining, the potholes get filled with water and you barely see where the pothole is and then you end up driving into the pothole,” he said,
“Sometimes when you’re driving, you must avoid the potholes and drive around them, but what will happen when you are driving toward oncoming traffic? It’s not safe.
“I hope that the department makes time to see how farmers operate and see what the roads are like. We’re always complaining and changing rims, but nothing improves. We just make complaints and that’s it,” said Gadu.
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