The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) says the country’s roads now have an estimated 25 million potholes — around seven million more than the estimated households in the country.
The number is also 10 million more than reported in 2017, an increase of 67% in five years.
Sanral revealed the shocking figure this week at the seventh South African Road Federation regional conference in Cape Town.
The agency blamed inadequate maintenance by administering authorities for the situation, which created a “vicious” cycle that burnt even deeper holes in authorities’ pockets as they attempted to intervene at stages when the cost of the damage had already increased significantly.
According to figures previously provided by the Department of Transport, pothole repairs cost an estimated R700 to R1,500 per square metre.
The varying cost is impacted by the extent of damage to the road and factors like the depth of the pothole.
Sanral says a lack of maintenance could increase the repair cost by 18 times if full road rehabilitation is deemed necessary.
Potholes are not a mere inconvenience but can cause damage to vehicles and, in severe cases, lead to devastating accidents.
Sanral recently launched an initiative called Operation Vala Zonke that focuses on physical road works such as resealing, blacktop patching, pothole repairs, and maintenance of gravel roads on 20,000 kilometres of the country’s secondary roads.
The initiative includes a mobile app on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store that lets members of the public report potholes.
It supports the ability to upload pictures and GPS location of the pothole, as well as a description of the damage.
According to the agency, the campaign made significant inroads in its first ten weeks.
“As figures come in, Johannesburg has already fixed and filled an impressive 112,699 potholes, North West 28,578, Limpopo 25,431 and the Free State has 16,540 fewer potholes,” Sanral stated.
But road experts have warned that Sanral cannot deal with the backlog on its own.
While the agency is mandated to maintain some of the country’s busiest highways and some provincial and regional motorways, much of the country’s deteriorating roads are within the jurisdictions of provincial governments, districts, and local municipalities.
Sanral simply does not have the budget to pay for all the repairs.
However, due to years of neglect, mismanagement, and corruption, many local authorities don’t have the money to get their roads in proper order.
According to a recent presentation by National Treasury to Parliament, 151 of South Africa’s 257 municipalities are on the brink of collapse, while another 43 have already collapsed and require urgent intervention.
Where government fails, citizens and the private sector step in
Citizens and private businesses have taken matters into their own hands in recent years.
One of the most well-known campaigns is Discovery Insure and Dialdirect’s Pothole Patrol, launched in May 2020 in partnership with the City of Johannesburg.
The initiative hopes to help the City catch up on a significant backlog by repairing 1,000 potholes a week.
According to an FAQ on the Pothole Patrol website, it was exceeding that target by 25%.
However, the maximum size of these potholes must be 1 metre by 1 metre, and they may not be deeper than 100mm.
In such cases, the section of road must be reinstated, and the repair must be handled by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA).
Civil action group Afriforum has also been repairing potholes in numerous communities since 2016, in some cases in partnership with municipalities.
The results when searching for “potholes” in the news section of the organisation’s website shows it helping with pothole repairs on a near-weekly basis.