Roads remain a deterrent
29 Jun 2018 – by Kylie Granat
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Mpumalanga and Limpopo remain key tourist areas in South Africa, yet due to poor road conditions, tourists and companies are hesitant to travel long distances to view all the provinces have to offer.
Tourism Update recently ran a poll, asking readers if the roads in Mpumalanga and Limpopo were in urgent need of improvement. Out of 178 votes, 99% voted ‘yes’, while just 1% voted ‘no’.
Nik Lloyd-Roberts, Federal Airlines (Fedair) Commercial Manager, suggests visitors fly into the region, saying: “Not only is it far safer, quicker and more enjoyable, but seeing our magnificent landscape from above is a truly unique experience.”
Tiffany Briggs, Head of Marketing at Mfafa Safaris says: “The roads are a complete mess and the government seems reluctant or unable to do anything about it. With regard to the infrastructure it is also severely lacking. The area has been plagued of late by service delivery strikes and rightly so. People have been made promises of a better life with access to basic human rights and facilities, and these have not been delivered.”
According to Briggs, this has had a detrimental knock-on effect on tourism. “Not only is it worsening the already poor conditions of the roads but people are also hesitant to send international clients to the region for fear of their safety when they hear that the communities are unsettled.”
The sentiment was shared by Owner of Mfafa Safaris, Anne Briggs, who says roads in the region are a disaster, and government could work on improving such matters by enhanced planning and budgeting. She says the issue has now been taken up by Kruger Lowveld Tourism (KLT) and Ehlanzeni District Municipality.
KLT Executive Director, Lisa Sheard, says the organisation has been trying to get government to take notice of the poor road conditions in the region since 2012, however the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (DPWRT) has seemingly been in a state of denial. “The roads are in critical need of maintenance and upgrades.” She adds that South Africa’s Minister of Tourism,Derek Hanekom is aware of the problem.
“The problem lies in the management of the work that is done. There is a level of incompetence, and also the possibility of corruption in road tenders.”
After conducting an in-depth assessment, Sheard says an estimated R4 billion (€249m) is needed for road infrastructure, however local government says there is no budget.
After much deliberation and ongoing efforts to get the department to take action, Sheard comments: “The outcome so far has been that the DPWRT has now acknowledged that there is a crisis on our roads, which not only acts as a major deterrent to tourism visits to the area but is also a hazard to transport of ordinary citizens and a stumbling block to general economic development and growth.”
However, Sheard advises: “The DPWRT simply pleads poverty and budget cuts as the reason for the road conditions, despite the fact that it is an open secret that a proverbial ‘honey pot’ exists around the awarding of road-related tenders in the province, that work has been shoddy and non-existent in some cases, and that the road asset management system in the province has failed and that there is general incompetence in the local DPWRT.”
In places around Lydenburg/Mashishing, the roads have been destroyed by hundreds of trucks moving chrome ore to Maputo daily, Sheard adds. “In other places, neglect and lack of maintenance and upgrading have resulted in some roads becoming virtually beyond rehabilitation, requiring major work and funds to get them to acceptable standards again.”
Graeme Edmond, Chief of Sales and Marketing for aha Hotels & Lodges says a start should be made by improving the roads on the major tourist routes, such as the Panorama Route. However, Sheard says key tourism routes are not even on the Department’s agenda for the next two years, hence are not budgeted for.
According to KLT, key tourism routes/roads in crisis include the following:
• R540: Belfast-Dullstroom-Lydenburg/Mashishing
• R36: Bambi turn-off (N4) to Lydenburg/Mashishing
• R36: Lydenburg/Mashishing to Ohrigstad
• R37: Lydenburg/Mashishing to Nelspruit turnoff (this is a SANRAL road)
• R536: Sabie to Hazyview
• R525: Hazyview to Graskop
• R532: Graskop to Three Rondawels
• R534: Loop road to God’s Window
• R532: Sabie to Graskop – no lines at all on section that has been resurfaced, potholes +/- 5km from Graskop
• R533: Ohrigstad to Pilgrim’s Rest to Graskop 3-way junction
• R537: Sabie to White River (only +/- 5km outside White River is very bad)
• R38: Barberton to Kaapmuiden
• R536: Hazyview to Paul Kruger Gate (KNP) – sections with potholes and sinkage on roadside
• Roads off the R40 in Bushbuckridge – various sections very bad and route to Sabie Sand Gates
Sheard says Kruger Lowveld will begin seeking funding options elsewhere. At the latest KLT scheduled joint working committee meeting, roads were discussed and the plan includes the following:
- Identifying which roads or parts thereof have been earmarked for repairs in the current budget year by the Mpumalanga DPWRT.
- For roads not included for the current year, identifying what type of work (light maintenance to heavy rehabilitation) is required.
- Estimating the budget required to achieve the above.
- Seeking funds to achieve the above.
On the upside, Edmond says all access roads into the Kruger National Park around Hoedspruit in Limpopo, as well as the roads from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga to Johannesburg and into the Greater Kruger region, are in good order for self-drive guests.
On the topic of self-drive routes, Alan Roxton Wiggill, CEO of Dinokeng JunXion and Owner of Talking Maps says: “Infrastructure and tourism routes to remote areas are quite obviously linked, as one needs access to travel to wonderful and wild places, such as the Kruger National Park, the Blyde River Canyon and many other remote places in the two provinces.”
18 months ago, Wiggill conducted a development field trip to many of the lesser known nature reserves and parks in Limpopo. He looked for a self-drive route for caravanning and enjoyable 4×4 routes, using only provincial and other roads.
“From Pretoria to Polokwane the roads were adequate, but from there they went from bad to a total disaster, with our group losing tyres with bursts, bent rims and our caravans being severely damaged. The cost of this included a significant amount of lost time, being stranded and lots of high unexpected expenses.” Wiggill says he had to drive on the side of the road between Alldays and Lephalale, and play ‘dodge the canyon’ in instances.
“The nett result is that a route which we were to develop and market was stillborn and now many of our clients won’t do this self-drive route they were so keen to try.”