One of the two trucks torched at a depot in Balgowan in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands during the early hours of Tuesday morning. Photo: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA).
Unemployed locals brought the road construction on the N3 highway to a halt, frustrating residents and motorists.

It was alleged that on Tuesday they set alight two trucks belonging to Roadmac Surfacing, the contractor upgrading the highway between the Hilton and Tweedie interchange. Locals demanded they be given jobs.

Roadworks began in November 2017 and were expected to be completed by July next year, but were initially disrupted earlier this year after the first appointed contractor, Basil Read, went into liquidation.

Roadmac Surfacing was subsequently appointed.

Roadworks had stalled for the past two weeks resulting in traffic jams.

An employee who asked not to be named said the chaos began when Roadmac Surfacing hired locals who demanded employment, undermining an agreement already in place.

The special agreement between the locals, the Project Steering Committee (PSC), uMngeni as well as the Mpofana Municipality states that workers who were hired by the previous contractor Basil Read were to be given priority.

“Some residents of Zuzokuhle Informal Settlement took to the streets and disrupted work on the N3 demanding jobs that they were then given unlawfully to stop the chaos and for the roadworks to continue.”

Leonard Makhaye, transport co-­ordinator of the Zimeleni Howick Taxi Association, said the employment process agreed on was rotational in nature. Each time the contractor was looking to increase manpower, all wards would be given an opportunity to bring the required number forward according to the waiting list.

“If, for instance, people had been taken from uMngeni, they would then have to wait their turn until people from other wards were employed. People from Mpofana in Mooi River are fighting to be employed and do not want to follow the right process. They are forcing matters. They do not care about other wards and whether the jobs are available.”

Mayor Sizwe Sokhela of the uMngeni Municipality confirmed the discontent was caused by the contractor’s inability to stick to the agreement. He said it was possible that those who were aggrieved, mobilised other workers and community members to cause disruption and chaos halting roadworks on the N3.

“Had there been a strict adherence to the original plan there would have not been a problem. That was what was reported to me,” he said.

“I had to speak to the N3 Toll Concession who promised to intervene, and while we were busy with that, we learnt of the burnt trucks.”

Roadmac Surfacing referred the Sunday Tribune to N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) for comment.

Con Roux, N3TC spokesperson, said N3TC and the contractor engaged with locals in relation to the project through a Project Steering Committee (PSC) and that the recent disruptions had occurred outside of the agreed structure.

Meanwhile, Hilton Ratepayers Association residents were upset about the continuous traffic jams.

Craig Millar, Howick councillor, said the delays had a number of ramifications locally and nationally.

“There are days where the road goes down to a single lane, and there is no work apparently being done, and that’s hugely frustrating for residents,” said Millar.

He said drivers had to set aside half an hour or more for a 15-minute drive, and, on some days, it was difficult to get to any desired destination via the N3 due to heavy traffic.

Stakeholders met in Howick on Wednesday to discuss the way forward.

Taxi owners who were on the programme would carry on transporting workers, and those who wanted to be included in the database of service providers would be informed of when they could register.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele confirmed that a case of malicious damage to property was opened.

In an update by the N3TC on Thursday, it said all lanes between the Hilton and Cedara interchanges were opened for the long weekend and would be closed again when road works begin on Tuesday.

Sunday Tribune