South Africa’s shocking roads — here’s how many potholes government has filled

The South African government has patched just under 1.3 million square metres of potholes in the past six months, according to Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga.

Responding to parliamentary questions from Inkatha Freedom Party MP Khethamabala Petros Sithole, Chikunga said there was no specific budget allocated for pothole repairs, and the funds came out of municipalities’ maintenance budgets.

“Provinces are allocated the maintenance budget as provided in the table above of which blacktop patching and pothole repairs form part of the 2022/23 financial year [budget],” she said.

“The total amount spent for the maintenance of the provincial roads through PRMG [Provincial Roads Maintenance Grant] over the six months is R3,650,251,022.”

“This budget covers the entire maintenance of provincial Strategic and Secondary roads networks inclusive of blacktop patching and pothole repairs,” Chikunga added.

According to figures previously provided by the Department of Transport, pothole repairs cost an estimated R700 to R1,500 per square metre.

The minister provided a breakdown of pothole repairs per province. This is summarised in the table below.

Pothole repairs by province over the past six months
Province Potholes patched Total six-month budget expenditure
KwaZulu-Natal 500,000m2 R673,500,452
Limpopo 139,925m2 R551,826,653
Western Cape 46,052m2 R514,052,000
Northern Cape 23,676m2 R491,859,499
Eastern Cape 112,286m2 R472,776,761
Free State 20,000m2 R347,299,000
Mpumalanga 141,186m2 R272,084,082
North West 94,996m2 R265,741,551
Gauteng 213,321m2 R61,111,024

It should be noted that the six-month expenditure includes all road maintenance expenditures. Not just money spent on repairing potholes.

Some roads have become so bad that residents have taken to repairing potholes themselves.

However, in April 2023, the Johannesburg Roads Association (JRA) warned that Johannesburg residents who repair potholes themselves are breaking the law.

“We see this quite often, where people want to fix potholes themselves. As much as we want to appreciate them for doing that, there is a bylaw that prevents people from doing so,” said Louis Nel, acting JRA CEO.

“We’ve got certain standards that we work to at the JRA. So, there is a certain way that we repair these potholes so that they do not re-occur.”

Nel provided several reasons why the JRA doesn’t want residents taking pothole repairs upon themselves, including residents using inferior materials to fix potholes, which poses a risk for motorists.

He said residents use various materials to repair potholes, including concrete, bricks, and stones.

“We’ve had an issue where a stone from a pothole flicked up and cracked the windscreen of a car,” said Nel.

“Now, the liability shifts to whoever interfered with that pothole. So, I think it’s important for people to know not to do that and also not to deface the city by spray painting anything on the road.”

Nel’s latter comment referred to a trending TikTok video at the time where a man spraypainted a circle around the pothole and then wrote “ANC” beside it. He said the pothole was fixed shortly thereafter.

In October 2022, it was revealed that South Africa has more potholes than households.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) said the country’s roads have approximately 25 million potholes — about seven million more than the estimated number of households.

The 25 million figure also represents a significant increase over the past five years as, in 2017, it was reported that the country had approximately 15 million potholes.

Sanral blamed poor maintenance on the part of authorities for the situation.

It said the inadequate maintenance had resulted in a “vicious” cycle that meant authorities had to spend more to intervene at stages when the cost of damage had already increased substantially.

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South Africa’s shocking roads — here’s how many potholes government has filled