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Farmers, taxi drivers unite against dilapidated roads

Historically, Free State farmers and taxi drivers were enemies. In a rare show of unity, they drew attention to poor road infrastructure – and in the process taught every South African a lesson on social cohesion

Members from Free State Agriculture (FSA) and Ficksburg Taxi Association (FITA) standing against the bad condition of roads in the province. Photo: Friedl von Maltitz

What began as a protest against dilapidated roads and potholes have now turned into a symbol of nation-building. This, after Free State farmers and taxi drivers joined forces to draw attention to the poor state of their town’s road infrastructure.

Independent political analyst Theo Venter says the protest action, held in Ficksburg last week, holds an invaluable lesson that communities across Mzansi would do well to remember in the future.

Theo Venter, an independent political analyst. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“When you develop a common interest, whether it’s about electricity or roads, then it is not difficult to bridge political boundaries, colour boundaries and all the other artificial things that keep us apart,” Venter tells Food For Mzansi.

He says historically the protesting groups were seen as enemies. The farmers were represented by Free State Agriculture (FSA).

They were joined by members of a community forum, Sechaba sa Ficksburg, to demand answers over “government’s laxity” in repairing provincial roads.

‘It cannot even be called a road,’ admits MEC

During the protest, several Ficksburg routes were shut down with tractors, bakkies and taxis. It followed an earlier letter to Free State MEC for roads, transport and police Sam Mashinini in which the concerned alliance requested an urgent meeting.

After driving down Hammonia Road with some forum members, Mashinini “admitted that one cannot even call it a road,” recalls Friedl von Maltitz, a local farmer and regional representative of FSA.

Potholes are starting to take up the whole lane on some Free State roads. Photo: Supplied/Friedl von Maltitz

When there is no political interference or agendas, virtually any problem can be solved, he tells Food For Mzansi. “Whether it’s stuff that we have to do ourselves, collectively or get the government to do their job, I think it is definitely possible for any community in the country to get it right.”

Besides FSA, Sechaba sa Ficksburg includes, among others, Ficksburg Taxi Association, AFASA, Setsoto Youth Development, Ficksburg Commonage Tenants, and the Ficksburg Agricultural Association.

ALSO READ: Dilapidated roads: Free State pleads for help

Road infrastructure promises

Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken. Photo: Supplied/Conrad Bornman

FSA president Francois Wilken says he was delighted to hear that a sense of unity prevailed at the protest on 17 March 2021.

“There was a sense of cooperation with one common goal, no opportunistic political agendas or undisciplined behavior.”

Ficksburg community members were left inspired by the protest action. They are hopeful that Mashinini will keep his promise to repair potholes on the R26 with immediate effect, while also fixing Hammonia Road.

Morgan Barret, chairperson of the Ficksburg Agricultural Association, will work alongside a road engineer to monitor progress, plan budget spending and to determine which roads need to be repaired.

“We are grateful that the action has yielded results and hope that it can spill over into the whole province,” says Von Maltitz.

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