Work finally appears to be starting on Mpumalanga’s notorious “road of death” nearly 10 years after government first promised to create a safe and efficient corridor for the thousands of workers who risk their lives daily on the R537 Moloto road.
There were 47 fatal crashes between January 2011 and July 2014 alone on this narrow, pot-holed stretch road, that transports around 50 000 people a day from Limpopo and Mpumalanga to their jobs in Gauteng.
“This is not how it should be,” said transport minister Dipuo Peters, who, two years ago, attended a mass funeral following one of the worst accidents on this road when 30 people were killed in a multiple pile-up.
“Roads are the arteries of our economy. They carry the vital lifeblood of economic and social activities that keep our country going and our communities vibrant… When a road assumes a name such as “road of death”, that is abnormal and points to the need for all of us to correct that situation.”
She was addressing a recent stakeholder engagement meeting in Kwamhlanga about the project.
She said the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) would now be in charge of management, upgrading and maintenance of the 139km-long road.
Sanral has already started with routine road maintenance, which includes the repairing potholes, sealing cracks, cleaning drains, trimming foliage and providing new road, new line markings and road signs.
Over the next five years, critical sections will be widened, while roundabouts, pedestrian walkways and dedicated turning lanes will be built at vital intersections.
Better street lighting will be provided, while illegal access routes that have sprung up along the road will be closed.
The road will also be properly fenced.
The road passes through 33 informal settlements and townships within its immediate vicinity.
Peters promised that locals will be given jobs on the project.
“The different companies which are responsible for the main contracts will recruit labour from within the districts and municipalities in the area. Significant portions of the contracts will be packaged to enable small and medium enterprises to perform the work and, thus, gain experience on a major project,” she promised.
She said the Moloto Road project will enable emerging contractors to establish joint ventures with bigger construction firms.
The project is meant to include a rail component, but this has been put on hold due to budgetary constraints.
When the Moloto Rail Development Corridor programme was first introduced by the Mpumalanga cabinet in 2006, it was one of the Big Five flagship programmes approved to grow the regional economy.
The four other flagship programmes were Water for All, Maputo Development Corridor, Accelerated Capacity Building, and Tourism, Heritage and Greening Mpumalanga.
In December 2007, the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (which was known as the Department of Roads and Transport at the time) announced that the Moloto programme would get underway in January 2008.
An R11 million feasibility study was done on developing both a road and rail link.
The budget for the project was R8,6 billion.
In March 2008, former head of national government communications, Themba Maseko, told Parliament that the department of roads was ready to take the project forward.
While presenting his 2008/09 budget to the legislature, MEC for roads and transport at the time, Jackson Mthembu, said that the first phase of the Moloto Rail Development Corridor was ready to be implemented.
But nothing happened.
Instead, in June 2013, the national department of transport reported to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group that: “The feasibility study on the Moloto Corridor was still noted as an ongoing issue and the rail policy would be developed with an interim rail economic regulator established.”
When 30 people were killed a few months later, Premier David Mabuza admitted that the establishment of the Moloto railway line was long overdue but said the national government would “be making a pronouncement soon”.
Fast forward to 2015 and Sanral has now been put in the driving seat.