Government paying millions of rands to South Africans for damage caused by potholes

 ·18 Nov 2020

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that government has paid out money to hundreds of motorists over the last year due to damage caused by potholes on the country’s roads.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, Mbalula said that since the beginning of the 2019/20 financial year, 229 new pothole claims with a total value of R5,219,365.03 were lodged against the department.

Of these claims, 14 were valued above R100,000 per case, he said.

Looking at the period between 1 April – 30 August 2020, 91 new pothole claims with a total value of R1,977,420 have been lodged against the department. Of these claims, four were valued above R100,000 per case, Mbalula said.

Data published by Statistics South Africa in October shows a steady decline in infrastructure spending from the government over the last year.

Stats SA’s data shows that delays and interruptions hampered infrastructure spending by provincial government during the 2018/19 fiscal year. This mainly affected the rehabilitation and maintenance of road infrastructure as well as the construction of schools.

South Africa’s 123 provincial government departments recorded a decrease in infrastructure spending – referred to as capital expenditure – of R1.88 billion in 2018/19. This represents a fall of 5.4% compared with 2017/18.

The general fall in infrastructure investment mirrors the long-term stagnation in the construction industry, Stats SA said. Construction experienced its eighth consecutive quarter of economic decline in the second quarter of 2020, according to the latest gross domestic product (GDP) figures.

“Infrastructure development is important. Economic infrastructure (e.g. electricity and water supply, transport, communications) and social infrastructure (e.g. schools, universities, hospitals) provide a foundation for economic and social activity,” the statistics body said.

“Infrastructure development is one of many dimensions to achieving sustainable growth in GDP and, accordingly, expanding the labour market; provided that it’s directed towards areas of greatest need. The statistics on infrastructure investment will continue to attract much interest and attention.”

State of roads leading to legal claims 

The escalating road maintenance crisis in South Africa means many people drive on treacherous roads which are the direct cause of accidents that result in serious injuries and deaths, says Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys.

Haslam said that the statistics on South Africa’s road maintenance backlog explain the state of our roads. It’s estimated that South Africa needs R138 billion each year to fund road maintenance. An additional R27.5 billion is required to grow the road network by 1% annually.

Between 1998 and 2008, the road network that’s older than its planned 20-year lifespan rose from 36% to 78%. “Combine this with an estimated 4% increase in road traffic per annum and it’s unsurprising many of our roads are unsafe to drive on,” said Haslam.

She points out that as much as 77.5% of gravel roads are considered to be in poor condition. “It would take R115 billion to get the high-volume gravel roads upgraded and R1.7 trillion to upgrade all gravel roads,” she explains. “This would require a 4% rise in VAT or an additional R3 per litre fuel levy.”

Haslam said that  if you have been in an accident caused by the treacherous state of our roads the relevant responsible local authority or the State could, potentially, be liable for damages.

“Record details of the incident, if possible including photos of the accident, damage to vehicles and the road surface,” she said.

“Also record the names and contact details of any witnesses that can corroborate the details of the accident and attest to the fact that it was caused by poor road maintenance.”

Read: Data shows how government is falling behind on infrastructure – neglecting roads, schools and maintenance

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