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Frustrated Free State farmers dig in together to fix giant potholes

Frustrated Free State farmers dig in together to fix giant potholes
Farmers in the Memel area use their own tools and money to repair the R34. (Photo: Supplied)

The members of an agricultural community in the Free State have decided to fix a large stretch of the pothole-riddled R34 themselves, instead of complaining about the government’s inability to do so.

Farmers in the Memel area have put resources and manpower together, valued at an estimated R250,000, to repair more than 40km of road dotted with large potholes. 

This stretch is notorious for its poor road infrastructure, costing lives and damaging many vehicles. It has reached the point where it’s also affecting the economic value of agriculture in the area.

The R34 is one of the longest routes in the country, connecting Vryburg with Richards Bay via Kroonstad and Newcastle. It passes through three provinces – North West, the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.

For more than a year farmers have pulled out all stops to get regional and local governments to repair the road, to no avail. The Free State government has admitted there is no maintenance programme in place, but that it is in the process of procuring material and contract workers to address this crisis.

Asked when last maintenance was carried out, the provincial roads and transport department said: “There is a serious shortage of manpower in the department. The last time the road received proper maintenance was in the 2021/22 financial year, when two CDP contractors were appointed for pothole patching on the Vrede-Memel and Memel-Botha’s Pass sections of that road.”

It was reported in March 2023 that the Free State government would spend R1.8-billion on repairing the province’s crumbling roads. 

In some areas the potholes obstruct both sides of the road. (Photo: Supplied)

Some of the potholes are deep and as wide as 2m. (Photo: Supplied)

Potholes have been left to resurface for more than a year. (Photo: Supplied)

The road is currently supposed to be maintained by the Vrede Roads office, but the provincial roads and transport department has conceded that due to a “serious manpower” shortage, it’s unable to. 

“We can’t go on like this and we’ve decided to do our own thing. Every day we damage our vehicle tyres not even to talk about how many lives have been lost on the R34 route,” said Marthinus Willemse, chairman of the Memel Farmers Association.

Farmers woke up early to repair the R34 themselves. (Photo: Supplied)

Farmers have decided to stop complaining about the poor state of the road and fix it themselves. (Photo: Supplied)

Huge effort

Last week, about 70 local farmers and farmworkers braved the ice-cold winter breeze, spades and shovels in hand, and spent hours smoothing the road. Farmers in the area sent equipment, transport, material and manpower to help out.

“We’ve decided that we have to do something ourselves. We took the initiative and arranged for farmers in the area. Everyone sent at least one tractor, some even sent three tractors to help. We had about eight TLBs (tractor-loader-backhoe). People even sent their bakkies and trailers just to transport gravel. It was a huge effort.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Not a single Free State municipality scored a clean audit in six consecutive years – Auditor-General

Some parts of the R34 running through Vrede and Memel are almost inaccessible for vehicles with small tyres. Potholes as wide as 2m mean motorists do not have enough time to swerve and avoid a massive hit to their tyres.

Many donations were made by locals, including manpower, trucks and tractors, to get the job done. (Photo: Supplied)

The farmers are also worried that if nothing is done, their business will suffer. It’s harvest time and all the grain must be transported to the various silos, which means the R34 will be exceptionally busy.

Willemse said that, at a time when everyone is frustrated by continuous rolling blackouts as a result of poor maintenance of Eskom infrastructure, South Africans have to come to terms with the fact that everyone needs to look after their own interest – like fixing potholes when and where they can. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Daniel Swanepoel says:

    Well done and a big thank you to the farmers. Now please withhold your taxes to our disfunctional ANC government.

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    A boer maak ‘n plan. Well done everyone.

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Excellent work!
    I drove this road 2 weeks ago, it’s beyond description how appalling the condition is -4 new tyres & R22, 000-later, on my return to JHB.

    There’s no “shortage of manpower”. There’s a shortage of willingness for these lazy, inept cadres to do any work or basic infrastructural maintenance, coupled with a shortage of money which has all been stolen.

    This pattern is repeated across most of the country. With the collapse of the railways, main arterials like the N2 from Ermelo to Richards Bay are heavily congested with large freight trucks & trailers nose to tail, with utter disregard for road rules & safety. These roads are death traps & in many places are barely drivable & being destroyed, with no maintenance taking place.

    Infrastructure has collapsed to such an extent due to the lack of even basic maintenance, realistically I can’t see a way out of the hole we’re in.
    Failed sate?

    • Robert Douglas says:

      Hiram says it all , when he uses the term ‘ the hole we are in’!

    • Joe Irwin says:

      The hole is so deep that even the failed state are saying it’s a failed state.
      To think that it’s illegal to repair roads could result in the possibility of confrontation with the corrupt police “force.” Any bets that this law will be ingnored?

  • Coenie Harley says:

    Great effort from our community, but still you’ll never embarrass these bad government officials. You’ll rather find them laughing behind closed doors as if it’s a funny thing if people start doing what is supposed to be done by these cronies. No wonder communities mostly protest violently to get the cronies to understand it’s no joke if service delivery is neglected.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    It is all wrong but only by local citizens taking back their backyards can we recover. PLEASE form Rate Payers Associations or join other apolitically formations, do something & hold these shameless politicians & officials to account.

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