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Grader sent to save Eastern Cape’s vital Mazeppa Bay Road breaks down

Grader sent to save Eastern Cape’s vital Mazeppa Bay Road breaks down
The Mazeppa Bay Road has deteriorated over 65 km of gravel, loose stones and soil that is so slippery that cars can't get up the hill. (Photo: Owen Richter)

Following the closure of the Mazeppa Bay Hotel earlier this month due to a sharp decline in visitors, mostly due to the condition of the road leading to the hotel, the Eastern Cape Department of Transport has attempted to have the road graded. The notorious stretch of gravel also now claimed the grader.

The Eastern Cape Department of Transport has sent two machines to grade the Mazeppa Bay Road, leading to the iconic Mazeppa Bay Hotel following the closure of the hotel mainly due to the condition of the road.

But work did not get far because one of the graders broke down.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Blow to Wild Coast tourism as iconic hotel shuts its doors

Unathi Binqose from the Department of Transport confirmed they were trying to work on the road.

“There are two graders that have been working on that stretch of road. They belong to the Department of Transport — they have been grading the road — it is a gravel road. We want to do the Mazeppa Bay Road because of the volume of traffic it carries it is getting[sic]. But one of the graders has broken down, which is unfortunate as we are trying to get the job done.”

The Department of Transport’s Grader that was sent to fix the road also broke down. (Photo: Owen Richter)

“Now it just stands there,” Wild Coast tour operator Owen Richter said this week. Richter took a careful drive down the road this week to take pictures for Daily Maverick showing the condition of the road.

“What they have done now is to just scrape the last of the soil away so now that road is just stones. Bad for the tyres,” Richter added. His pictures showed the bad state of the narrow road filled with loose stones, deep dongas and overgrown vegetation.

“The grading of the road is a very big problem for us,” tour guide Ajax Xolisi said, “because the contractors do not remove the stones that they are taking out so then when the rain comes it just washes everything back into the road.”

A video of Ajax and his tour guides.

Xolisi, who has been helping tourists find the best fishing spots since he was 11 years old and fishing with a handline, is now moving to Jeffreys Bay and Gqeberha to look for work as tourist visits have dried up in the seaside town.

A video by Richter of the condition of the Mazeppa Bay bridge

“We are nervous around here because there are no jobs. We are all biting our fingernails,” he said.  He said the village has been left despondent because they tried their best to draw attention to their plight. “We have tried everything we could to get someone to help us,” he added. Apart from himself other fishing guides, hotel staff, cleaners and cooks have all been left without an income.

Mazeppa Bay Hotel,

A deep pothole in front of the Mazeppa Bay Hotel, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Owen Richter)

Xolisi said his former clients have always told him that Mazetppa Bay was such a special place because “nobody will try to rob you”.

“Maybe sometimes someone will come ask if you want to buy some prawns or something like that but it is a good place to relax,” he said.

Mazeppa Bay Road, Ajax Xolisi

Ajax Xolisi showing what can be caught off the rocks at Mazeppa Bay. (Photo: Supplied)

“I have been helping people get to know Mazeppa Bay since I was 11. I left halfway through school because I had to provide for my family.”

Now he is 29 and as the father of a young boy, he is leaving his beloved village to look for work elsewhere.

“People are phoning me but they all say I must let them know when the road is better then they will come back,” he said. “When people come here I do everything for them. As long as you have a fishing rod and a bakkie to get here that is all you need. We have all the fish, big yellowtail, big Galjoen, cob. But I am here to make sure that we won’t kill all the fish. I am strict about undersized fish. We fish from the rocks and we catch and release the ones that are endangered. ”

The bad condition of the road has made life very difficult for those who remain behind in the village. “Sometimes while we are driving to the hospital on that road people will die in the back of your car,” he said.

“The ambulance can’t get here. It takes a taxi driver 2 and a half hours to drive the road and it is only 65 km,” Xolisi said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: R3.8bn a year – how much the Eastern Cape needs to fix potholes and maintain roads

On Monday the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, administering provincially owned properties, of which the Mazeppa Bay Hotel is one, issued a request for proposals for a nine-year and 11-month lease agreement for the hotel.

But Xolisi said the bridge will have to be fixed first. “We need the bridge,” he added.

Infrastructure collapse and tourism

In a statement released by environment organisation Green Ripple, Dr Div de Villiers, who had been involved in conservation for the past 40 years in the Eastern Cape, has also warned that collapsing state infrastructure is a threat to Wild Coast tourism.

De Villiers said the Mazeppa Bay Hotel may just be the first one to be affected by the terrible condition of the roads in the district.

“There is a lot of concern from other Wild Coast hotel and resort owners about visitor numbers to the region. The blame is being put on the condition of the road and the effects of Covid-19. But I think that it is a more complex issue.

Mazeppa Bay Road

Cars will often slip off the steep shoulder of the narrow Mazeppa Bay Road, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Owen Richter)

“Covid-19 cannot be blamed entirely because other tourist destinations have bounced back and are thriving. Not only the likes of Cape Town, but hotels along the Western Wild Coast, like Crawfords and Morgan Bay Hotel are bustling with guests. However, they are not situated in the former Transkei. And here lies the problem. What’s happened on the Transkei Wild Coast is that basic infrastructure has collapsed. As one crosses the Great Kei River, you notice the environmental degradation. Raw sewage is running into the rivers, waste is dumped everywhere, water supply is unreliable, flood damage is unrepaired, roads are washed away, security is a problem, and illegal development is rampant.

Mazeppa Bay Road

Community members say that stones and debris left on the side of the road after grading wash back into the road during rain storms creating dangerous driving conditions. (Photo: Owen Richter)

“There are nearly 300 unlawful sand mines that scar the once-pristine coastline and people have grabbed land and built illegal cottages in prime settings. Many of these are being hired out for a pittance. You can stay in an illegal cottage for R300 or R400 a night if you check Facebook adverts because the unlawful land occupiers obtained the land for free and are paying nothing to the state in the form of rentals, rates or taxes. They do not have the costs that the legitimate establishments have. They don’t provide meaningful jobs and don’t support local businesses.

Mazeppa Bay Road,

Cows on Mazeppa Bay Road, Eastern Cape, also create a hazard, especially at night. (Photo: Owen Richter)

“This scenario has been predicted for ages. Enoch Godongwana took a hardline approach against lawlessness as early as 2000 when he was MEC for Economic Development and Environmental Affairs.

“He established a task team to ensure the demolition of illegal developments and advocated for formal nodal development to attract investment to the Wild Coast. The efforts of the provincial and national governments bore fruit for at least 15 years, but when lawlessness was allowed to escalate unchecked, the illegal economy began thriving across the Kei.

“In my opinion, the Mazeppa Bay Hotel epitomises what sets Wild Coast hotels apart from any other hotels in South Africa – over generations, they have become an integral part of the environment and social structure of the unique nodes they occupy,” he added. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    We feel unfairly treated when the world says “Africa is a swamp of uselessnes and corruption”.

    When there is literally mountains of evidence proving that we are.

    Where are our true leaders?

  • Rae Earl says:

    The usual care and attention which the ANC affords citizens who vote it into power every 5 years. Sympathy on such voters is wasted. They never learn.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    I feel very sad for Ajax Xolisi, his family, and his village, but have a responsibility to point out that they all voted ANC – and will probably continue to do so – in spite of overwhelming evidence in the past that their village and our whole country are on the road to nowhere. Use your power to vote them out, Ajax, or live with the consequences.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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