Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive of The Road Freight Association, says that the condition of our roads needs to be addressed urgently to prevent further damage to the economy.
The Road Freight Association (RFA) is deeply concerned at the deteriorating state of South Africa’s roads and the severe consequences of this. In a recently released report titled South Africa’s Road Construction Industry – A Regional Look by consulting company Frost & Sullivan, it was stated that more than half (54 percent) of the country’s unpaved road network is in poor to very poor condition, while 30 percent of the paved network is in poor to very poor condition. The internationally accepted norm is that not more than 10 percent of a road network should be described as “poor to very poor”.
The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) is currently responsible for just over 22,000km of paved roads, or 3.6 percent of the road network and 6 percent of that can be described as being “poor to very poor”, mostly as a result of provincial roads recently handed over to SANRAL to manage.
The steady and continual downward trend of the condition of South Africa’s roads needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency. The reasons for this trend have been clearly highlighted in the Frost and Sullivan report – and these need to be corrected.
A well-maintained road network is critical for South Africa. Roads are the arteries of the country – allowing people and goods to move – for business, career, pleasure or personal reasons. They are crucial to the development of any nation and are the foundation to alleviating poverty and facilitating the move of individuals to better lives, where there are better opportunities.
It is a misnomer to think that the only roads that matter are the beautiful multi-lane national roads. Whilst they are, of course, exceptionally important, the rural infrastructure is what gets all the agricultural, mining and first level manufactured goods to the processing and manufacturing centres. Without these roads – and many of these are dirt roads – the nation will not be able to feed themselves. Within towns and cities, the road networks allow greater movement of society for work and pleasure purposes, as well as for the movement of crucial items, including medical supplies, security, infrastructure maintenance and support. The recent stories in the media regarding the state of roads in a North West town, which has led to a manufacturer relocating, is a very good example of how local, smaller roads are required to provide efficient, safe and reliable services.
Maintenance and development of roads has been a long festering sore in the eyes of the public – especially with the whole matter around the e-toll Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). Roads must be maintained. Once they fall into disrepair, the rate of accidents will increase, the cost of maintenance will spiral, and in the freight sector those costs will be passed on to the consumer as there is no other choice. In addition, the reliability of many services, such as ambulances, police, fire services and electricity maintenance, will be nil.
Authorities need to be held accountable for the roads under their care, for the allocation of funds for roads that they receive (but is often spent elsewhere), and the use of those funds in the road network.
The loss of skills and expertise in engineering, design and construction cannot continue. Roads should be funded by the general fuel levy (GFL). If this levy had been applied solely to roads in the manner required many years ago, this would have ensured that periodic maintenance would occur, and we would not have the roads we have today. As at April 2021, the GFL was R3.93 per litre, or approximately 23 percent of the retail price of petrol. It is estimated that the GFL will deliver R86-billion to the treasury to be applied as the Minister sees fit.
The fuel levy should be ringfenced and allocated to SANRAL. This agency can hold various road authorities accountable, whilst also providing expertise, assistance in identifying reliable road contractors and engineering support. The Portfolio Committee on Transport and a public oversight body – similar to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) but not a state-owned enterprise – should then hold the Minister of Transport accountable for the state of the roads and ensure that the maintenance, repair and development occur as required.
Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive of The Road Freight Association