SA’s neglected ‘roads to nowhere’ – tourism player

Here is a heartfelt plea from a tourism industry player and traveler that graphically illustrates how our government’s lack of basic services – in the case of road maintenance – is having a chilling impact on our economy. One of the most beautiful passes in the country, the Oliviershoek Pass in the Drakensberg amphitheater, embracing the magnificent Sterkfontein Dam and connecting the Free State to KwaZulu Natal, is now virtually a no-go route. This is due to lack of maintenance of culverts, resulting in car-swallowing craters and fender-destroying potholes – not to mention the danger to life and limb in potential head-on collisions while avoiding both. A local resident who has just completed a nationwide road trip compares provincial roads and speculates on the appalling cost to tourism that the underperformers incur. She herself is just recovering from the impact of Covid on her business and outlines where else the life-threatening lack of road maintenance is impacting. –Chris Bateman

An open letter – Impending disaster on the R74

Dear Minister of Transport, Mr. Mbalula; SANRAL, M. Macozoma; MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mr. Harcharan; and all interested parties

I love South Africa and recently had the privilege of traveling around the country quite a bit. It’s a huge privilege that so many South Africans miss out on.

My first road trip took me through the Free State. We choose the road that runs along Lesotho. The countryside is beautiful and the small towns interesting but alas this time the roads made the trip almost impossible. It was safer to drive next to the road in places. The whole road is full of potholes and it’s hard to dodge the craters without damaging your vehicle or getting into oncoming traffic. We chose the N5 for our return trip. Also, not great. It’s so disappointing and devastating for every padstal, B&B and cafe trying to make a living.

My next trip was through the Free State, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KZN. It is unfortunately quite safe to say that Cape Town’s infrastructure is far superior to that of other provinces. Free State is definitely the worst and unfortunately we seem to be following closely in KZN. Even the dirt roads are safer and in better condition than some of our major routes.

This is extremely concerning as we live in the Drakensberg Mountains, KZN. We are in tourism. We rely on a good road network to ensure that our company remains a destination of choice. Recently we had exceptional rains, but I don’t think we can attribute this to the failing state of the R74 or any of the minor roads that connect the resorts and activities in the valleys.

What is R74? It connects the Free State to KZN via the Oliviershoek Pass. This is the alternative route to the N3 and I believe a road that SANRAL is responsible for? We strongly believe this is an important route for business, for transporting supplies and many children travel to good schools in both Harrismith and Bethlehem via this Pass, some daily.

There have been several rockfalls on the pass recently, but the biggest concern is the collapse of the culverts. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism and local municipalities have all been aware of and aware of this calamity for over a year and yet action to date has been inadequate. Seriously insufficient.

Huge pantechnicons use this route when the N3 closes. How many times? More often than not right now. The only collapsed culvert is on a sharp bend. Very little warning and such huge vehicles veer into oncoming traffic to avoid the hole. It’s an accident waiting…

A quiet rumor is that they will close the pass. Disastrous for so many people. Not only has our industry and our region suffered from Covid-19 and all its restrictions, but travel bans and the lack of foreign tourists have made the situation worse. The economy sa limps along. We all compete for the same guests. Rate cuts to attract vacationers are unsustainable. And yet, tourism is the biggest provider of jobs and skills development in our region.

One of the most important tasks of government is to provide safe and reliable access to areas. When international travel opens up fully, will foreigners choose this route or will they, like us, find it so dangerous that they will vacation elsewhere? The cap? The Garden Route? Where things seem to work a little better? Where the infrastructure is really well maintained and where the funds seem to be going to the right places?

SA is a beautiful county. The potential is enormous but it is beginning to crumble miserably in places. Could we just see a little action to regain our hope?

For now we don’t need a cable car. We need good roads.

Sincerely concerned, always full of hope,

The Drakensberg – KZN

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