Navigating South Africa’s bumpy, pothole-filled roads to nowhere

Navigating South Africa’s bumpy, pothole-filled roads to nowhere
Mr Styles' visage of the bumpy road most travelled. (Photo: Daily Maverick)

In a country where it takes a whole year to build a single toilet without completing it, it’s not surprising for folks to be told they have to wait another century for proper road surfaces.

A recent drive on a 31km stretch of an alleged road in rural Eastern Cape left me with sore kidneys, a shaken liver, twisted ankles, a vibrating head and a generally severely aching body. Such was the severity of the bumpy ride, I even felt pain in muscles I never even knew made up my sexy body.

So terrible were the potholes on some parts of the road that I feared my eyes would fall out of their sockets and roll down the gorges and hills, never to be seen or see again. I swear some of those potholes were shaped like Gwede Mantashe’s lips.

By the time we arrived at our destination, after almost an hour-and-a-half of this torturous journey, my head was throbbing as if I had just sat through a Julius Malema press conference.

It was quite depressing to imagine this was the daily lived experience of the locals who had to use that excuse of a road to go about their lives. If this was the highway carrying sinners like yours truly to the eternal flames of hell, I have no doubt Lucifer’s forces of darkness would scramble to bribe their way out of the trip.

Later that evening while I rested my sore bones and muscles on the balcony at my lodgings, I wondered if my experience meant the villagers who used the road daily were walking around with vibrating heads and aching bodies all the time.

If this is the case, which I highly suspect it is, then this is an abuse of human rights at the highest grade. Perhaps there are more than reasonable grounds to sue the government here…

This disturbing thought led me to pour myself a stiff shot of a not-so-soft drink to help me deal with the aches all over my body. It was only when I took the first swig that I learnt, to my utter shock, that even my tongue and lips had taken a serious beating from the bumpy ride.

Suddenly the drink tasted like the dust I was forced to inhale along the ride, forcing me to abandon the drinking mission and turn to my smartphone, cracked screen and all, to catch up on the day’s news. Guess what I came across while browsing?

A report by one Ezekiel Kekana for GroundUp quoting the Roads Agency Limpopo (RAL) saying it would take 115 years to tar and upgrade all gravel roads in that rural province. One hundred and fifteen years?

Unless by some evolutionary miracle, I have no doubt I would be long dead in 115 years to come. In fact, even my ghost would be long dead. The guys at RAL say they need R138-billion to make some progress, warning that at the rate government is currently funding their coffers, rural folk in the likes of godforsaken places like Wegdraai are likely to wait a century before they see a tarred road in their back yard.

Now if you think my bumpy ride down in Eastern Cape was terrible, then let me tell you about Wegdraai. I once drove there behind the wheel of a vintage Mazda F1300 bakkie, made tough and resilient in the rough 1970s.

Good grief, so bad was the road even the battery flew out of the car bonnet. The folks over there have marched and threatened their broke municipality to build them a proper road. But nothing has come of it. I guess even the prospect of marching down that rocky, sandy road has instilled the fear of the gods in them. I hear even taxi drivers fake illness whenever a trip up there comes up.

If the folks at RAL are to be believed, then rural Limpopians should brace themselves for another 10-decade wait. But what’s to be expected in a country that takes a whole year to build a toilet? The poor state of roads in rural areas should be declared a national disaster. It impacts negatively on the economic and social development of communities. It impacts people accessing healthcare or accessing schools. It is also a major contributor to road accidents and fatalities.

Government announces grand plans every year to improve rural roads, pumping billions into the coffers of the likes of RAL and other provincial road agencies. What’s strange is that these agencies have a high salary bill courtesy of the scores of people under their employ.

Yet they don’t even build one metre of road in a week — unless there’s an election on the horizon. My doctor has warned me several times to stay away from these rural roads owing to the negative, deadly impact the rocky rides have on the human body.

Imagine a freaked-out physician revealing to you during a consultation that they can’t find your liver, or that your kidney has moved to your chest as a result of these bumpy rides? Not so stylish.

If building roads is going to take us more than a century, then I guess we have to wait a millennium to eradicate corruption, which has been proven to be a major contributor to the slow pace of development in our beloved country.

The only way to make sense of all this is to revisit the words of the great Can Themba, writer and philosopher, who wrote: “I like nonsense. But I prefer common sense more.” DM168

Mr Styles is the former president of the Organisation for Stylish People of South Africa (Osposa). He is against anything and anyone unstylish.

This satirical column first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    This complaint comes from another city dweller! As a confirmed “bushofile” i would suggest his attention is more needed when considering the movement of traffic in the big urban areas.
    In the bush, the softer nature of the road surface offers a gentler bump then that realised on the hole carefully positioned downstream of the iniquitous “speed hump” which litter the urban landscape.
    Similarly, the multi tasking begging community who are so proficient that they can combine collection of income with maintenance of traffic flow, makes for slow but steady and sluggish movement of traffic at intersections decorated with weather susceptible traffic lights.
    Personally, creating new paths and multilane highways in the rural areas, is more fun and assists in the movement of local stock!
    Have you noticed how gravel roads in urban areas are uniformly less well maintained than their rural equivalent?
    Long live bush roads, they promote site seeing!!!!

  • L Dennis says:

    What a disgrace

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    There are many reasons for the poor roads, however the prime reason is the gross incompetency of most road authorities in the country, excluding SANRAL whose roads are world class, and the Western Cape provincial roads authority. The reason for the incompetency is the lack of professionally qualified and experienced road engineers on their staff establishments. Cadre deployment has brought this about with the result that many establishments do not have a single roads engineer on their personnel list, only unqualified technicians at the best. This problem was pointed out to the political heads at least a decade ago, to no effect.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    And yet those Eastern Cape pot-holed road communities will still vote ANC – for the next 115 years.

  • Jean-Paul Kloppers says:

    It surprises me this not more of an issue. The enabling environment for business that government so regularly talks about surely requires basic infrastructure such as roads (and rail for that matter). Surely this constitutes low hanging fruit? Yet in township communities the roads can hardly be called roads. When I drove through the Free State recently some tarred roads were so bad it was better to drive on the shoulder of the road. And in a major city like Johannesburg you better have your wits about you because, even in leafy suburbs, there are pot holes that will destroy your wheel. Building roads is hardly complex, so this doesn’t bode well for addressing our country’s numerous complex issues like, say, crime (within the police force).

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