Historic deal on road repairs

Agri SA, Bhisho to work together on maintaining gravel network

Bad roads like this one near Alicedale hamper agricultural and employment prospects
Bad roads like this one near Alicedale hamper agricultural and employment prospects
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

The Eastern Cape Department of Transport and Agri Eastern Cape have reached a historic agreement which will see the department making a concerted effort to repair and maintain the province’s decimated gravel road network.

With the agreement in place, Agri EC, which represents about 3 000 farmers, withdrew its opposition to the department’s appeal against a judgment which entitled farmers to fix gravel roads themselves and bill the provincial government.

The Grahamstown High Court last year gave the green light to desperate farmers to – under certain conditions – repair gravel roads and bill the government for the work done.

The then Roads and Public Works Department warned that this so-called “self-help” option would have the effect of handing over to farmers a significant portion of the depart- ment’s budget, bypassing normal procurement procedures.

They took the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Agri EC this week agreed to the appeal court setting aside the judgment after the transport department – which has taken over responsibility for roads -- approached it with the agreement in terms of which it immediately made R15-million available for urgent repair and maintenance of gravel roads.

Agri EC will be consulted every step of the way and will be part of negotiations with the national and provincial Treasury and all other stakeholders to find solutions to ongoing problems experienced with road repair and maintenance. Agri EC will also be allowed to participate in the road budget process.

Progress on effecting the terms of the agreement must be provided to the Grahamstown High Court which will retain a supervisory role.

The Department of Transport agreed to foot the legal costs of the appeal and the original high court application.

The application involved about 37 000km of gravel roads.

It was admitted in court papers that there was a significant rural roads maintenance backlog and that the vast majority of gravel roads in the Eastern Cape required extensive regravelling and not simply routine maintenance.
The department conceded in court papers that if the under-funding of rural road maintenance persisted it would lead to a situation which was devastatingly serious for the economics of the agricultural community and employment prospects in the Eastern Cape.

Former Agri EC president Ernest Pringle, who was instrumental in driving the high court application, described the agreement as historic.

He said it placed the obligation for roadworks back where it belonged – with the department.

“And the high court will retain some supervision over whether or not it is doing its job. We agreed to it because we regard it as a major step forward and a basis on which we can work with the department.”

The department had not commented at the time of writing.

Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern said the agreement was a victory for rural road users in the province. Agri EC would become a formal contributor

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“Being granted this facility is highly unusual,” Stern said.

“It means that we will be able to make representation and assist in identifying which rural roads require the most urgent attention.”

Going forward, he said it was agreed that the organisation would meet with the transport department’s roads division on a quarterly basis to discuss maintenance programmes on the roads affecting rural farming communities. 

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