If you’ve been to South Africa lately, you’ll know that potholes are a big deal. Not necessarily because of how big a problem they are (though they truly ARE a problem) but because people like to talk about them, even people who live in cities that have fewer potholes than my relatively upscale Southern California neighborhood.
This photo is of a provincial road somewhere in Mpumalanga in 2010. Notice the sand that local farmers fill the potholes in with – this is a lifesaver! Also notice the big truck on the horizon. Now imagine thousands of those going back and forth on this 2 lane road.
A recent article cites Deputy Minister of Transport, Jeremy Cronin, as saying that heavy duty trucks are to blame for many of the road quality problems in Mpumalanga and North West. From personal experience, I have to agree with big trucks as a major reason the roads are not holding up. Staying in an out-of-the-way town in Mpumulanga in 2010 and 2011 which just so happens to see thousands (I kid you not, thousands) of coal trucks pass through to get to the nearby power station EVERY DAY, I can’t see any other reason why the roads look the way they do. Part of the problem is that the railroads are no longer being used to transport coal – in some places (and I wish I had a picture to prove this to you) they have actually tarred right over the tracks. But another, bigger problem, at least in my opinion, is that nobody really knows who is responsible to fix which road.
Exhibit 1: On a particularly bad stretch of road between Ermelo and Standerton in Mpumalanga Province, Msukaligwa Municipality and Lekwa Municipality have each placed signs to indicate where their municipality starts. However, after MANY meetings with civil servants and local councilors in each of these municipalities I determined that the municipalities are not technically responsible for this specific stretch of road, as it is a provincial road. Money for repairs should thus come from the provincial government. HOWEVER, if you ask the residents who is responsible for this road, they place all blame on the municipal government.
Very near to this sign is this stretch of road (at least this is what it looked like in 2010 – the road was being redone when I was there in 2011):
I joked (semi-seriously) many times that I am convinced that Lekwa Municipality paid to have the sign installed that demarcated the municipal line. Especially if you’re not technically responsible for the maintenance of this road, why would you want your name anywhere near it? It seems like a very strange choice if Msukaligwa did choose to place this sign themselves.
And just in case you thought that all the pothole problems were solved since these photos were taken in 2010, I leave you with a picture from 2011 taken somewhere between Dullstroom and Ohrigstad (if I remember correctly.)