Wait a minute … SA’s roads have 25 million potholes? Sanral clarifies

A car drives past a pothole in Pimville, Soweto. File Picture: Itumeleng English

A car drives past a pothole in Pimville, Soweto. File Picture: Itumeleng English

Published Feb 19, 2023


Durban — The South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd (Sanral) has clarified claims that South Africa’s roads have 25 million potholes.

The clarification comes a day after Sanral said that collaboration is vital to fixing potholes on South Africa’s national, provincial and municipal roads.

On Sunday, Sanral said it wishes to clarify claims circulating in the public domain about South Africa having 25 million potholes.

Sanral said that in a presentation at the South African Roads Federation (SARF) Conference held in Cape Town in October 2022, one of the speakers, former SARF president, Mutshutshu Nxumalo, claimed there were more than 25 million potholes on South Africa’s roads.

The agency said it would like to clarify that the estimate of 25 million potholes was not derived from Sanral but was presented at an event in which it participated.

Sanral said it has reservations about this figure. Given that South Africa has a paved network of 168 000 kilometres, 25 million would equate to 149 potholes for every kilometre, which is improbable and unlikely.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said: “We do not dispute that South Africa has a pothole crisis and we remain committed to working with provinces and municipalities to address it. However, we must be realistic about the nature and extent of the problem. We recognise the work done by so many municipalities and provincial departments in fixing potholes on their respective roads.

“We are, however, unable to provide reliable statistics as to the exact number of potholes which have been repaired to date and will be requiring more administrative cooperation from the various authorities to actively report their progress so that we can have a more accurate grasp of the progress made across the country.”

Mona emphasised that feedback and opinions are important to road authorities because they reflect the experience of the people who use the roads.

“We take these seriously. But even so, we must be careful when using statistical data so that we don’t exaggerate the challenges we are facing,” Mona said.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Sanral said that it noted the public’s interest and commentary on potholes and the Vala Zonke campaign.

The national Department of Transport launched the national campaign to fix potholes, dubbed Operation Vala Zonke, on August 8, 2022, with a call for a joint effort by the nine provinces and all 278 municipalities, comprising eight metropolitan, 44 districts and 226 local municipalities.

The department also called on the private sector and the public to assist in eradicating potholes on South Africa’s roads.

Sanral was appointed as the coordinating agency to drive the campaign, which included the harmonisation of all data and information on potholes and providing the technology and technical knowledge to ensure quality delivery of the campaign.

The agency, therefore, launched the Sanral Pothole App for the public to be able to report potholes easily. About 51 271 citizens have downloaded the free app – available on IOS and Android phones – and reported about 26 699 potholes. The pothole app allows the user to take a picture of the pothole, while the system automatically records the GPS location, eventually sending the information to the relevant authority, depending on the location.

Sanral said that in line with its Roads Repair and Maintenance Policy, it has swiftly responded to and repaired all potholes which have been reported on the national road network.

“A total of 618 potholes have been reported on Sanral roads to date; 475 of these were in the northern region; 72 in the eastern region; 60 in the southern region; and 11 in the western region. All these were fixed and those that haven’t are still within the 48-hour window that we have set ourselves at Sanral,” said Sanral engineering executive Louw Kannemeyer.

Mona said the first six months of the Vala Zonke campaign had shown some success in providing the public with a single pothole reporting app that can be used on all roads in South Africa, providing a centralised consolidated view of all reported potholes enabling focused engagements between the Department of Transport and relevant authority and fixing potholes but that a massive inter-governmental effort would be required to overcome the scourge on a much wider scale.

“As the coordinating agency for the Vala Zonke campaign, Sanral has done an assessment of the limited progress made in fixing potholes across the country. It is important to understand the legal mandates of the various spheres of government, to understand who is responsible for which roads, and to be clear about how the campaign to fix potholes is coordinated,” Mona said.

He said that South Africa’s total road network is estimated at 750 000 kilometres, the longest of any African country and the 11th longest in the world. Responsibility for building and maintaining the network is divided between Sanral, provincial and local government authorities. Sanral manages national roads and has a network of 23 512km of paved roads. Provinces are responsible for just over 270 000km (46 500km paved) while the municipal network is estimated at just over 320 000km (nearly 88 000km paved) of the proclaimed network. The rest are unproclaimed gravel roads (mainly serving rural communities) and are therefore not owned or maintained by any road authority.

“For our part, Sanral has a mandate, which covers more than 23,000km of national roads and we can give updates about potholes that have been fixed (in) the national road network. While we are aware of work that has (been) and is being done by provincial and municipal roads authorities in fixing potholes on the roads, they are responsible for, Sanral is not in a position to authoritatively give account on these,” Mona explained.

He acknowledged that Operation Vala Zonke has not come without its challenges. For example, getting data from the other road authorities is still a challenge though progress is being made in this regard.

Mona added that the challenges are not insurmountable.

“We will not grow tired until we have delivered on the mission, and we want to assure South Africans that government remains committed to addressing the problem. The solution is here, but it can only be fully effective when we all play our part,” Mona said.

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