Farmers who fix their own damaged dirt roads can, in terms of a specific court order, now send the bill to the government.
Yesterday, the Grahamstown High Court ordered the Eastern Cape Roads and Public Works Department to immediately begin implementing plans to repair and maintain its extensive, and largely dysfunctional, rural road network.
Significantly, the judgment sets out the conditions under which farmers can arrange to have damaged gravel roads repaired themselves and then bill the government for the work.
Agri EC president Doug Stern hailed the judgment as a massive victory for rural and farming communities and said it was likely to set a tough precedent for other provinces.
In court papers, the department objected, indicating that it believed this would hand farmers a significant portion of the department’s budget, bypassing normal procurement procedures.
But Judge Judith Roberson said she had deliberately built in enough safeguards to avoid this happening.
Agri Eastern Cape and individual farmers brought the application last year in which they sought to compel the department to take action to properly repair and maintain the damaged rural roads, which were having a devastating effect on agricultural and rural economies.
The department estimates that, of its 77 336km of public roads, 60 000km could be considered rural roads, and for purposes of this court application, 37 000km was identified for extensive regravelling at a cost of R500 000 a kilometre.
Agri EC obtained quotes which would cost only R200 000 a kilometre.
In May, the department agreed to a court order obliging it to file a report outlining steps it would take to repair and maintain their roads and the date it expected to complete the necessary work.
The department filed the report but then tried to backtrack on the agreed-to structural interdict.
The department said, in retrospect, it wanted the structural interdict dismissed.
Roberson declined to do so.