Roads infrastructure developer Bakwena reports that the civil unrest of mid-July, which placed “chokeholds” on the national roads of the N2, N3 and major roads around Durban, as well as destabilised supply chains in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, are reminders of the crucial role played by road networks in the transportation of goods across Southern Africa.
Without the vital road arteries to move food and other basic supplies seamlessly, the concessionaire says South Africa could face a socioeconomic “heart attack”.
Bakwena Platinum Corridor concessionaire COO Solly Kganyago says the efficiency and speed with which the authorities managed to restore calm and reopen the critical trade corridors are commendable, despite the damage sustained to infrastructure. “This quick recovery facilitated the conveyance of essential goods and services using the road network.”
He adds that the fast reopening of routes speaks not only to the reliability and proficiency of the stakeholders responsible for maintaining the high standard of the roads, but also to the role these roads play in keeping South Africa’s “economic heart pumping”.
The transport sector in South Africa contributed R23.57-trillion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of this year, according to Statistics South Africa; while estimates by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s suggest that the cost to the national economy caused by the riots sits at R50-billion.
However, the Road Freight Association (RFA) warns that South Africa’s GDP may take a further knock as cargo owners and customers choose to move cargo through neighbouring countries rather than using South Africa’s road and freight infrastructure.
To ensure South Africa’s regional counterparts find the country’s road networks economically desirable, Bakwena points out that it manages 90 km of the N1, running from Pretoria northwards to Bela-Bela; and a 295 km section of the N4, running from Pretoria westwards, through Rustenburg and Zeerust, to the Botswana border.
These routes are used to transport goods from South Africa to the Southern African Development Community region, including Botswana, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This, Bakwena says, makes them fundamental paths in sustaining the economy of Southern Africa.
According to the latest Ctrack Freight Transport Index, more than 150-million tonnes of cargo was transported by road between January and March, compared with just 40-million tonnes that was moved by rail.
RFA CEO Gavin Kelly says that, based on the major role that roads play in upholding the economy, roads should receive the same status as national key points.
“Is a national key point not the country’s citizens. Are roads not ensuring the continuing roll-out of the vaccination programme? Are they not ensuring that there is food security?,” he questions.
“We can keep South Africans fed, but such roads also need the routes to do that. Government needs to protect the logistical routes and all the vital links to move food and supplies around the country and keep the economy going,” Kelly adds.
Roads also play an unquantifiable role in the social cohesion and inclusion of communities that would otherwise be excluded from participating in the general economy owing to their respective geographies, states Bakwena.
This vast transportation network also connects rural and urban neighbourhoods, enabling them access to services such as health, social grants and education facilities that may lie outside of the reach of their immediate communities.
“Considering the immense contribution that roads make toward the development and growth of the country and its citizens, their maintenance must, therefore, be a top priority for the public and private sectors,” says Kganyago.