Kiepersol potholes threaten farmers’ livelihoods

Avocado farmers around Kiepersol in Mpumalanga are losing millions of rand due to the deteriorating condition of the E514 Kiepersol road.

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According to residents, the more than 400 potholes on the 12km-stretch of tar road outside Mbombela have caused extensive damage to vehicles and resulted in tons of fresh produce either going to waste or having to be downgraded. Kiepersol banana and avocado farmer Rodney Hearne says the road is also endangering the lives of commuters. “Our farm workers are brought in by taxi, and their lives are put at risk every day as the vehicles swerve to avoid the potholes. The road also poses a huge danger to those who aren’t familiar with it.”

Farmers have been calling on the MEC for Public Works, Roads and Transport, Dikeledi Mahlangu, to have the road fixed, but no action has allegedly been taken. “In desperation, we’ve now taken it upon ourselves to carry out makeshift repair jobs on the road at our own cost,” said Hearne.

“We initially tried to use tar to patch it up, but this has become far too expensive for us, so we’ve resorted to using compacted dirt, but the job is far too big for us to handle.” Hearne said farmers in the area were already struggling due to fuel and electricity costs and farm workers’ minimum wages.  Ken Robertson of the Democratic Alliance in Mpumalanga said that commercial agriculture should not be forced to suffer for government’s failure to execute its mandate of facilitating economic growth and job creation.

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“Forcing the private sector to intervene where government fails will have the opposite effect,” said Robertson. “The Department of Public Works needs to realise that everyone pays rates and taxes with the expectation that they will be cared for by the government.”

Pointing out that the potholes on the E514 were now merging to create bigger holes, Robertson said: “We need the department to send out engineers to fix about 90% of this shocking road.” David Nkambule, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport in Mpumalanga, said that the department was aware of the state of the road – and had plans “to do some routine maintenance on it”.