Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “roads”

Bathed in the coloured vomit

Last night I travelled along this stretch of road, perhaps for the last time — the N1 highway going north. I’ve travelled along it quite frequently, taking our son Simon home from work, with his bicycle. He cycles to work in the day, but at night we try to fetch him, because it’s harder for motorists to see cyclists in the dark.

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

It’s just on at one intersection at Atterbury Road, and off at the next, the N4 interchange, but in between is one of those toll gantries with its ominous blue lights. And today the toll gantries started operating, or so they said, so I probably won’t be going down that stretch of road again in my lifetime.

Toll roads were introduced in South Africa in the 1970s. Up till then roads had been paid for by the roads fund, which was financed by a fuel levy. It was a good system, and worked on the “user pays” principle — the more you used the roads, the more fuel you would use, and the more you would pay. Heavy vehicles, which caused more wear to the roads, also used more fuel, and so paid more.

But the National Party government wanted to finance the invasion of Angola in 1975, and so it diverted money from the Road Fund for that, and introduced toll roads. When the ANC government came in in 1994, we hoped that the privatisation of infrastructure like public roads would stop, and perhaps be reversed, but the ANC government seems even more eager to expand the toll road system.

But the decision to introduce tolls on the busy urban freeway system of Gauteng has sparked unprecedented resistance. Zwelinzima Vavi, the trade union leader, said yesterday on Twitter ‘let’s unite & teach SANRAL & Govt the real meaning of “The People Shall Govern”‘ He was the leader of Cosatu, the biggest trade union federation in South Africa, and was recently suspended, many suspect because of his opposition to toll roads.

Many other influential people have said they will not register or pay etolls, including a number of church leaders:

Church leaders vowed on Monday to refuse to pay to use Gauteng freeways and called on others to do the same.

“We… church leaders, have therefore decided to publicly declare our intention to refuse to buy e-tags and to refuse to pay this unjust e-toll,” they said in a statement.

“… We call on all other church leaders, members of our churches and all South Africans who support democracy to do the same.”

The leaders, including SA Council of Churches president Bishop Jo Seoka, the Central Methodist Mission’s Bishop Paul Verryn, and Methodist Church of Southern Africa presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa, said the decision had not been easy.

However, it had to be made as the government was not listening to the people.

They said they were shocked and disappointed to hear the government ignore the people’s protests and push ahead with e-tolls.

And I don’t think this will be the end of it, it’s only the beginning.

To paraphrase a poem by John Betjeman:

When all our roads are lighted
By glowing monsters sited
Like gallows overhead
Bathed in the coloured vomit
Each monster belches from it
We’ll know that we are dead.

Nationalising mines… and roads

There has been some discussion in Twitter about nationalising mines, and today Olwethu Sipuka (@osipuka) tweeted “In the 1980’s, the Dep of Public Work could build world class roads etc. What stops us from nationalising mines?”

And my immediate thought was, What stops us from nationalising the roads?

It is true that the Department of Public Works built some excellent roads in the 1980s, but many of them were military roads, intended to get troops to “the border” as quickly as possible. They were little used by the public, and some of them are now in poor repair.

Also in the 1980s, many of the roads that were used by the public were privatised, and turned into toll roads. That was because the National Party government robbed the road fund to pay for its military adventures in Angola. Since we no longer see any need to invade Angola and destabilise our neighbours, it’s high time we nationalised the roads that were privatised back then. But instead, the ANC government is continuing the National Party’s policy of privatisation, and is converting more and more roads into toll roads.

I can think of several reasons why nationalising the roads would be a good idea.

But I can also think of several reasons why nationalising mines would be a bad idea, a very bad idea.

Here are some of them:

  • Mines are a wasting asset. Many mines are nearing the end of their useful life. so taking them over would just be an additional burden to taxpayers. Mining companies amortise the profits over the expected life of the mine, but the profits, for the most part, have long since gone.
  • Mines are becoming a liability. Many mines have caused a lot of pollution, which is becoming worse as they are mined out and no longer work. For example there is acid underground water that needs to be treated. It is only fair that the companies that made the profits should pay to clean up the mess. But if the mines are nationalised, it is the taxpayers who become responsible for paying to clean up the mess that others have profited from.
  • Dying mines will need to lay off workers. If dying mines are nationalised, the government will have to reduce the workforce, and lay off workers. This will set workers against the government.

There are other reasons too, but these are the main one that make me think that we should think twice before nationalising the mines, but that the roads should be nationalised without delay.

Deteriorating transport infrastructure

potholes warning
One of the things we have noticed in our holiday travels is the deterioration of the transport infrastructure in the country.

In some provinces, notably the Free State and Mpumalanga, the roads are in poor condition, and the Free State roads were particularly bad, full of potholes. The 700 km drive from Clarens to Graaff Reinet was very tiring, because of the concentration needed to drive along the potholed roads, and that was in daylight and in good weather. At night, or if it was raining, it would have been far, far worse. When we reached the Eastern Cape the roads were a lot better, and likewise in the Western Cape. The Free State roads, however, were beginning to resemble those of Albania 10 years ago, where repairs could never catch up, because as soon as one section was repaired, and the road workers moved on to a new section, the newly repaired section began to deteriorate again.

But it wasn’t only the roads; the railways are also deteriorating. Around Villiers in the Free State we saw abandoned railway lines, covered with weeds. There was another abandoned line between Steynsburg and Rosmead in the Eastern Cape, and yet another going north from Graaff Reinet.

weeds on railway tack

The reason for both kinds of deterioration seems to be the deregulation of road transport, which took place about 25-30 years ago, during the privatisation mania of the Reagan-Thatcher years. This led to a huge increase in the number of heavy goods vehicles on the roads, and in many cases the roads were not designed to carry such traffic. Goods that used to be carried by rail now go by road, with a consequent deterioration of both the road and rail infrastructure.

My cousin-in-law in Graaff Reinet, Nick Grobler, told us of a woman he knew who had uterine cancer, and had to go to Port Elizabeth for a hystrerectomy. In the past it was a comfortable overnight train journey, but now, being discharged from hospital within three days, she had to return to Graaff Reinet in a cramped minibus taxi, and though the roads in the Eastern Cape are not (yet) as bad as those in the Free State, it was not a pleasant journey after major surgery.

Traffic disruption

Traffic jams seem to be a way of life here, as just about every road in town (and the next town, and the one beyond that) is being dug up, widened, repaired, resurfaced and what not. So there are detours, deviations and diversions. The freeway to Johannesburg is narrowed to two lanes, or one, while they put a new piece of a bridge in place, or something.

Eventually (they hope in time for the World Cup in June) the freeway should be widened from three lanes to four or five, though the talk is that they will then make it a toll road, which should help to cut the traffic on it, as we look for alternative routes.

But yesterday a lorry crashed into some of the roadworks, where they are building a new bridge, and the chaos was far, far worse. The lorry turned over and caught fire on the northbound carriageway, under the new Atterbury Road Bridge. The Bridge is being widened, and usually has huge traffic jam in peak hours.

The crash happened on Wednesday afternoon, and the freeway was closed most of yesterday. The lorry hit a construction crane, and moved it by about a metre, so it had to be dismantled and rebuilt. The bridge was closed altogether for parts of the day as well. My wife usually goes along the freeway under the bridge to work, and it usually takes 15 minues, but it took her over two hours to get home yesterday.

I didn’t take the photo, I don’t know who did — it was sent to me by e-mail. Reports say that one person was killed and three injured. The dead man was probably the co-driver of the truck. The driver apparently ran away, and the police are investigating a possible charge of culpable homicide.

It’s time to abolish toll roads, not extend them

Toll roads were introduced by the National Party regime so that they could rob the Road Fund to pay for the invasion of Angola and the destabilisation of neighbouring countries.

Part of the democratic transformation process should see the phasing out of toll roads, and the restoration of the road fund. The fairest way to pay for roads is through a tax on fuel. And in that way all roads can be maintained, and not just a few selected ones.

African Energy News Review – Poor will be most affected by N1/N2 toll road proposal

Capetonians have until 30 April to comment on the National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) controversial plans to build toll roads on the N1 and N2 freeways outside Cape Town.

The move would further increase transport costs, which are already rocketing because of significant fuel price increases.

Sanral expects to put out the project to tender with the aim of starting construction within two years if the plan is approved by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe.

Post Navigation