South Africa

ROADS TO RUIN

Chairperson of Joburg’s ‘potholes’ agency suspended

A pothole-ridden road in Cosmo City, Johannesburg, on 7 February 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

The IFP COO and chairperson of the Johannesburg Roads Agency, Albert Mokoena, has been suspended.

The chairperson of the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), Dr Albert Mokoena, has been suspended after an investigation into board overreach and interference in tenders by General Shadrack Sibiya’s Group Forensic and Investigation Services (GFIS) department.  

Mokoena is also the COO of the IFP, an ANC coalition partner. The ANC’s support in Johannesburg plummeted to 33.6%, while the IFP won 2.36% of the city’s votes in the November municipal poll. 

The state of Johannesburg’s roads, bridges and stormwater drains is one reason for the fall in support. The city has more potholes (92,000 in its last detailed quarterly report) than any major South African city. When it rains, roads become dams. Traffic lights are often out, but a JRA spokesperson says this is because of load shedding.  

Cars dodge potholes on Johannesburg’s Main Reef Road on 9 December 2019, when heavy rains caused havoc and destruction in parts of Gauteng. (Photo: Gallo Images/Daily News/Christopher Moagi)

The GFIS report found that Mokoena and other board members had overreached into the agency’s executive work, demanding tender specs and pushing for certain companies to get jobs. The agency has a budget of about R1.5-billion a year and runs its asphalt plant, but the road network is declining. This article sets out the details of the state of the 12,300km road network, 1,168km of which is still gravel. 

The JRA promised an update on the state of the city’s roads but did not provide it by the time of writing. 

“About one-third of the city roads are in a poor or very poor state. This means they will require reconstruction as they can no longer be resurfaced – 700 bridges are in an equally poor state, including the M1 and M2 highway bridges. We need an assessment report on the current state of kerbs, inlets and drains,” said DA councillor Tyrell Meyers, the previous chairperson of the transport committee who has expertise in oversight of the JRA. He added: “I’m not surprised at the suspension of the board chairperson. There have been numerous allegations about interference in operational issues at the JRA.”

Suspended Johannesburg Roads Agency chairperson Albert Mokoena. (Photo: Supplied)

Meyers said the city’s potholed roads had improved mainly because of the Discovery/Dial Direct partnership to fix them. “The problem is we do not know what the City is doing and what private companies are doing.”  

City spokesperson Ntatise Modingoane confirmed Mokoena’s suspension to Daily Maverick and said investigations are ongoing. GFIS spokesperson Lucky Sindane said its reports are not publicly released but sent to the city manager, currently Floyd Brink, who is acting. The JRA company secretary, who speaks for the board, referred queries to Modingoane. 

Daily Maverick has learnt that Mokoena’s reign of terror at the JRA had prompted the investigation. Former president Thabo Mbeki fired the former home affairs director-general when media reports showed that he ran a basketball enterprise from his office. IFP leader emeritus Mangosuthu Buthelezi was home affairs minister at the time. 

As part of the governing agreement with the IFP for the last term, the ANC gave the minority party transport to run. The party then deployed Mokoena into the role of chairperson while the ANC deployed Republic Monakedi as CEO. Monakedi has a chequered history as a twice-failed municipal manager at the Greater Tzaneen and Mopani District municipalities. 

Pothole patrollers at work during an Accelerated Service Delivery Programme oversight visit in Orange Farm on 15 October 2021. The programme was designed to ensure service delivery progress across the city. (Photo: Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo)

At the JRA, the two allegedly tag-teamed to finagle the tender system. In their time, the JRA has plumbed new depths of poor service, and the roads, culverts and stormwater drains are testaments to this. 

In the latest quarterly report, not yet tabled at the council, Johannesburg Water had worked on fixing the underlying pipes but dug 2,994 holes. The JRA completed 35 reinstatements. There are big holes in streets across the city because of pipe bursts. Daily Maverick reported on 55,000 pipe bursts reported by Johannesburg Water during its financial year – about 150 a day across the city.  

The JRA employs 1,666 staff and contracts out most of its work. This means the tenders are valuable. The agency was started in 2001 as a plan to run the city on efficient business principles. That has never happened as the JRA is one of the most troubled institutions with a new managing director almost every year since the last local government elections. DM

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All Comments 7

  • I am not suggesting that the Joburg Metro roads are in a good state (I live in Joburg, so I know what bad roads look like), but one should just see the Mashisheng Munisipality roads for something astounding. Mashisheng/Lydenburg is an ANC run munisipality.

    Last weekend we tried to drive the road from Lydenburg to Graskop via Pilgrims Rest (and vice versa) in a 4×4. You probably wouldn’t believe the condition of the road unless you saw the road first-hand. There are parts of the road where “one drives literally not on the left side of the road, but what is left of the road”.

    Many of the suburban roads in Lydenburg are ‘no more’
    … they are just a mudbath. One needs a 4×4 to drive from some neighboring houses to another in the centre of the town.

    Without a 4×4 one can easily end up stuck on a mud road (needing to be towed out by a 4×4) and that is not only 500m away from the Lydenburg Municipal Offices, but also from the Lydenburg SAPS offices, and the local hospital.

    I guess that this situation will perpetuate as long as the voters allow the local ruling party to redeploy friends, families, cousins, brothers, aunties, wives, etc into sheltered employment and not demand service delivery value to the local community.

  • On a brighter note, all those people preparing for fourth industrial revolution jobs can soon get shovel jobs. Going by the way things work around me, three workers (of which one actually is shovelling at any moment) also need one supervisor (on youtube in the bakkie) and four traffic safety officers waving flags. At least the traffic safety officers have wide-brimmed hats for the weather.

  • I think the good sir has over-achieved according to the ANC or broader socialist concept of a rent-seeking state.

    What would the need of a state be if only the individuals of that that could look after themselves?

    Of course the state as a self-interested party (no pun intended) will seek to promote its own importance. Can it achieve that by actually solving issues? No, of course it cannot because that would render it obsolete.

    What the rent seeking state requires is a perpetual state of feudal misery. The people need us! We can give them R350 per month.

    As long as we keep them that way.

  • In what parallel universe does anyone think that the JRA running their kwn asphalt plant is going to assist in the management of potholes? This is like SAA having their own filling station or Eskom having thier own coal mines. Qualified, committed, accountable, hard working people is what is required. But hang on….. didn’t they all leave?

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