Belfast Road project delayed by endless demands

Road project stretching from Belfast, Somerset, to Justicia in Bushbuckridge has been met with delays due to community demands for job opportunities for locals. l SUPPLIED

Road project stretching from Belfast, Somerset, to Justicia in Bushbuckridge has been met with delays due to community demands for job opportunities for locals. l SUPPLIED

Published Jun 2, 2024


The road project that was scheduled to start six months ago, stretching from Belfast, Somerset to Justicia in Bushbuckridge, has been met with delays due to community demand for jobs for locals.

In November, the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads, and Transport MEC, Mandla Ndlovu, held a sod-turning ceremony for the upgrading of the D4382 Road near the Kruger National Park between Belfast, Somerset, and Justicia in the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality in Ehlanzeni District of the Mpumalanga province.

At the time, MEC Ndlovu promised the community that the project would be completed within 22 months. However, six months later, the 13.6-km tar road project appears to be characterised by serious delays.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one of the contractors involved in the project said it would take a few years to complete, as there were problems with inexperienced contractors who were part of the project.

“We are six months behind schedule. There is no way we will be able to complete the 13 km road project on time. We had to go back to the drawing board and do serious excavation, match the new levels, and then prepare for the roadbed which might take weeks. I am perturbed because the community is getting frustrated,” said the source.

Another pressing challenge raised by one of the officials, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, was that elements of the “mafia construction” gangs were making difficult demands.

“Every week there is a new demand. Some are justifiable but others are opportunistic. I fear the community will lose patience and possibly engage in violent protests as they have done over the past 30 years while waiting for this tar road,” said the official.

Spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport, Bongani Dhlamini, conceded that there had been delays.

“It is due to community demands which are, however, being attended to as the project progresses and is treated according to their merits.

“The project has a contract duration of 20 months from commencement, and it is anticipated that the contract duration is adequate. If necessary, an extension of time may be granted for delays attributable to factors beyond the contractor's control.”

On concerns about the alleged lack of experience and poor quality of the construction, Dhlamini said there was a quality assurance arrangement on site with the specifications for the construction materials.

“The project must meet the set standards, the contractor’s process control tests, and then quality assurance by supervising the engineer's site team, which includes a site materials testing laboratory. These measures are meant to deliver a road as per the design standards.

“The department approved the appointment of a social facilitator on the project who manages the project’s social matters. This has included the setting up of the project steering committee, which acts as the public relations arm of the project and provides community leadership oversight on the project; and the appointment of a client liaison officer to assist the contractor when recruitment of local labour is done.

“The Bushbuckridge municipality is also closely involved in the project.”

Dhlamini said the project coincided with the end of the financial year and this affected the contractor's cash flow as National Treasury had issued an instruction for budget cuts during adjustment in October 2023.

Residents of Belfast near the Kruger National Park have on several occasions embarked on violent protest action, demanding a tarred road, causing serious disruptions and road closures leading to the Kruger Gate.

According to the department, road infrastructure plays a significant role in the economy of Mpumalanga and the country as a whole.

“The 13-km road construction will ensure easy and quick access to public amenities, but also create job opportunities for the local and neighbouring communities.”

The department said billions had been set aside to roll out major road infrastructure projects across the province in the past few years.

In the past five years, the department said, it had focused more on the rehabilitation and maintenance of ailing infrastructure, including those that connect villages. Additionally, part of the work included the construction of bridges, the upgrading of gravel roads to tar, and the rehabilitation of old tarred roads.