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KwaZulu-Natal - The failure of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport to repair a pothole at an estimated cost of R500 could end up costing it almost R1 million.
Former hospital chef Hluphile Elda Zuma was injured when the taxi she was travelling in hit the massive pothole and overturned on the R33 between Keate’s Drift and Tugela Ferry in December 2004.
Zuma’s arm had to be amputated below the elbow.
In a verdict handed down by the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday, Judge Jan Combrink scoffed at the argument by Premier Zweli Mkhize and Transport MEC Willies Mchunu that budget constraints meant that there was limited funds available for road maintenance in KZN.
Finding the department liable for Zuma’s injuries, the judge pointed out that R700 000 had been spent tarring the road leading to the Albert Falls farm of Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele, who was KZN premier at the time.
The court had heard that the surfacing of the D173 dirt road leading to Ndebele’s house was done during the 2004/05 financial year, when Zuma was injured.
“There appears to be no obvious reason why the road was upgraded to tar, and none were proffered by the province,” Combrink said.
The court had held an in loco inspection of the D173, a minor road leading into a sparsely populated area comprising farmland.
He said that during the inspection, which lasted more than 40 minutes, only two cars were seen travelling on the road.
The upgrade was done
using funds that were probably redirected from other areas of the department’s work programme, Combrink said.
“To endeavour to claim that there were insufficient funds to properly repair the relevant section of the R33 road that included the pothole in question, appears to be cynical, to say the least.”
According to testimony led during the trial, the cost to repair the pothole would have been a mere R500
Zuma sued the province for more than R1m in damages after she had to leave her job due to her injuries.
While the court found the department liable, the amount for damages is still to be finalised.
Mkhize and Mchunu had defended the action and denied liability for the accident.
They accused the driver of the taxi, Zamani Innocence Langa, of reckless and negligent driving, and he was joined in the matter as a third party.
The court found that there could be no doubt that Langa was also negligent, because he knew of the pothole and the risk it posed to him and his passengers.
Combrink found that Langa was
30 percent to blame and the province 70 percent liable.
However, because Zuma chose only to sue the province for damages, the province was ordered to pay her in full and claim back 30 percent from Langa.
Zuma said she was elated by the outcome. “I can’t believe it. After all this time I have justice. I thank God for it.” - Daily News