As the country celebrates Transport Month, farmers across Mzansi have said there is nothing to celebrate since there are no roads to drive on due to a lack of maintenance – mainly in the farming areas – making it difficult for food producers to operate.
Farmers have lamented a lack of urgency in addressing the appalling state of the roads, leading to many farmers having to fix the roads themselves.
Fixing roads instead of farming
Wessel Wessels, a livestock farmer from Vrede in the Free State, said the roads are so bad that they have to spend a day or two fixing and patching them instead of working the land.
“All the tarred roads from Vrede to Memel, Warden and Frankfort are all bad. Farmers put gravel into the potholes from time to time and they also level out the gravel roads.
“I personally don’t think that farmers can keep on going with this extra financial burden. Everything is becoming our problem: roads, security, schools, old age homes, churches – and we need to support the town to keep it going,” he said.
Nompe Zim, a dairy farmer in Reitz in the Free State, said the state of roads is discouraging for them as farmers.
“The roads are a disaster, and this makes our lives extremely difficult because these are the roads we use daily. Up to 90-95% of our work as farmers includes being on the road to access inputs that we might need.
“I would not say that our roads are getting better, they are getting worse. Roads linking our towns are just in a bad state,” she said.
Zim said she would like to see the roads redone instead of being patched as that does not make a difference.
‘Change the system’
Llewellyn Louw of Jacobsdal Trading Pty (Ltd) in Jacobsdal, also in the Free State, said the state of the roads in their area is very bad. He called on the government to use the month of October to fix the roads as they play a critical role in the economy.
“I think what they should do is focus more on the roads because businesses are using it daily and they will also create jobs. Having full-time people who fix the roads on the spot will make a huge difference to what is currently happening.
“They should start road maintenance as part of government jobs whereby they employ people to work full time on the roads and stop using this tendering system,” he said.
Demand outweighs supply
Free State Agriculture commercial manager Jack Armour said while there were few projects that the government had handed over, the demand was higher than the supply.
Armour has called for the professions to be given road projects in the province to accommodate everyone and not only be limited to those who have close ties with the government.
Meanwhile, during the departmental budget vote in May, the department announced that several gravel roads which were affected by floods, were prioritised in 2023/24 with a budget allocation of R60 million.
At the time, the MEC for community safety, roads and transport, Maqueen Joyce Letsoha-Mathae, said the funds would specifically be allocated to address challenges with regard to drainage on the gravel road network.
The MEC further announced that an amount of R100 million was going to be set aside for several projects in the province in the current financial year.
Gerhard Bruwer from Genadeshoop Boerdery in Douglas in the Northern Cape said roads in the rural communities are not being maintained, which is sad because many farming communities were in far-flung areas.
“The roads in rural areas have not improved for many years, I have recently seen that there are many trucks on the roads daily and that destroys the roads because of their weight. These trucks are going to the Eastern Cape and pass through our area.
“In Douglas, it is getting worse because of the potholes. There is no maintenance of the roads for our agricultural community,” he said.
The government responds
Media liaison officer for the Northern Cape department of public works and roads Zandisile Luphahla said the department is aware that there are gravel roads that need levelling up in the province.
“We have put aside a plan and a budget to make sure that we improve the roads, by blading the roads regularly, especially on routes that are mostly gravel and have been washed away by floods.
“In terms of the potholes, the Vala Zonke project is aimed at closing up all the potholes, especially on our main roads. When it comes to ensuring economic activities like mining and farming thrive, we do not compromise, we make sure our road networks are up to speed,” he said.
Luphahla urged farming communities to engage the department when they are not satisfied with the state of the roads and said collaboration with the government is key.
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