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The KwaZulu-Natal Premier and the Minister of Transport were ordered to compensate a taxi passenger who was injured when a taxi overturned because of a pothole, the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled on Wednesday.
Judge Jan Combrink said the “massive” pothole was about nine metres long, 2.5 metres broad and between 20 to 25 centimetres deep.
He said it stretched across the travelling surface and drivers crossed the “wrong” lane to avoid it.
The amount in damages to be paid to Hluphile Zuma, of Tugela Ferry, has not yet been decided.
The accident took place in December 2004 on the Greytown-Dundee tar road.
The taxi driver, Jabu Langa, testified that he used the road several times a day and knew the pothole well.
He said that to avoid the pothole he would cross over into the oncoming lane. But on that day a bakkie rounded a bend “very fast” and this prompted him to turn left into the pothole.
The taxi overturned, injuring Zuma and 12 other passengers.
A witness from Zimane Construction, which was contracted to repair that section of road, claimed the pothole was repaired in December 2004 but the repair was washed away. Combrink rejected this evidence, saying it was full of contradictions and inaccuracies.
A roads department official told the court that the funds made available to the department had to be spread to various projects and admitted that there was not enough funding.
Combrink said that the “cat got among the pigeons” when court officials did an inspection of road tarred past the gate of then KwaZulu-Natal Transport MEC Sbu Ndebele.
It was a minor gravel road and the resurfaced section served only two farms, one of which belonged to Ndebele.
Combrink said that this upgrade cost more than R700 000 in the 2004/2005 financial year. “ (The roads department official) was constrained to admit it was not a formally funded project,” said Combrink.
“It follows that those funds were probably obtained from funds allocated to another project. During the same year R218,000 was spent by the department on gifts and donations.” - Sapa