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The blood will be on your hands

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OPINION: Dear Northern Cape Government, have you given up? asks Danie van der Lith.

The R385 Koopmansfontein road between Kimberley and Danielskuil has become known as the “road of death”. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Dear Northern Cape Government,

After being in charge of the Northern Cape for the past 28 years, one would think that by now you would have your ducks in order; you would have systems that are in place that work, and a general understanding of managing the province.

But as I was driving out of the city to a small place called Postmasburg recently, it became clear to me that your ducks are still splashing around in the pond, looking like lost ducklings searching for help.

During every election over the past 28 years, you were given a mandate by voters to lead this province.

You were given the mandate to manage this province, maintain infrastructure, and build new infrastructure. But it seems like you have lost your way and your vision. Do you know what you are doing? Do you have qualified people to fulfil that mandate? Or are you just winging it day by day?

I left for Postmasburg early on Wednesday morning, while it was still dark. While I was driving past the prison on the N8, I noticed that it was dark, very dark in the distance ahead. No street lights were on, all the way down to the traffic circle, not a single light was burning. I thought to myself how dangerous this would be for anybody coming into Kimberley who was not aware that there is a big traffic circle at the intersection of the N8 and the R31.

Then, while I was driving on the R31, I was greeted with a stop-and-go traffic control where construction is under way to raise the level of the road so that the huge mass of clean, filtered drinking water from Riverton, leaking from damaged pipes and being mixed with the raw sewage from the Gogga pump station, will not flow over the road.

In my humble opinion, I would think that in the long run it would be a better decision to repair the problem – fix the leaking water pipe and repair the pump station – and thereby stop this problem once and for all. But hey what do I know?

Are you planning on raising the level of the road again in the near future when the water inevitably creeps closer again? Could those financial resources not be used more efficiently elsewhere … say perhaps, for example, where the actual problem lies?

The horror trip didn’t end there though. While I was travelling further on, I reached Koopmansfontein, a village situated 61 kilometres north-west of Barkly West on the way to Postmasburg. Now, this road is the lifeline of this beautiful province.

Why a lifeline you may ask? Simply because this road now has to manage dozens and dozens of trucks each day; trucks carrying manganese and iron ore to different parts of our country because, as you may know, our railway system has failed.

This road has now been renamed ‘the road of death’, and it didn’t take long for me to realise why it was called by that name.

A large section of the R385 road between Koopmansfontein and the Danielskuil turn-off has massive edge breaks, and I soon realised that the boards that were put up to alert motorists should have been reworded to warn motorists that their lives are in danger.

Very large edge breaks on the Koopmansfontein Road are causing vehicles to swerve out into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting the damaged area. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Several times during my trip I had to swerve from the shoulder of the road to avoid those massive edge breaks. Yes, that means I had to swerve into the path of oncoming traffic and on one occasion I almost collided with an oncoming truck that also swerved out from an edge break on that side of the road.

Trucks need to swerve out into oncoming traffic to avoid large edge brakes on the Koopmansfontein Road. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Lesson learned. But, while I was keeping an eye out for the frequent edge brakes, I then also had to swerve out for the massive potholes in the middle of the road. It is like playing a game of Russian roulette. However, your odds of surviving this ‘Road Roulette’ game are far less due to the amount of ‘bullets’ you will need to avoid.

Several big potholes cover large sections of the Koopmansfontein Road. Pictures: Danie van der Lith

If you are not a religious person, this road will make you one.

One would think, or hope, that all that would have been enough. However, I also noticed that all along the R385 between Koopmansfontein and Danielskuil there was something chillingly familiar.

I saw what looked like the exact replica of the R31 outside Kimberley. A huge body of water has collected on both sides of the road. In fact, already large parts of the sides of the road are flooded with water that stretches from the road’s shoulder far into the veld, providing a habitat for ducks and birds alike.

All along the Koopmansfontein road to the Danielskuil turn-off are large bodies of water, stretching far into the veld. Picture: Danie van der Lith

I tried to think where all that water could be coming from. It could not be rain. It hasn’t rained in ages. There were, it seemed, millions of litres of water lying there, and it appears as if the water level is steadily rising because it has now reached the point where construction is under way on the road … guess why?

Well, to prevent the water from flowing over the road. Sound familiar?

Construction vehicles are currently busy digging trenches to keep the water from reaching the road. Picture: Danie van der Lith
A section of the Koopmansfontein road has had work done to it to avoid water from flowing over the road. Picture: Danie van der Lith

It seems to me like you are putting a plaster over a wound that needs surgery and several stitches.

In economic terms it’s mind-boggling. This – in these tough economic times – is not value for money. Far from it, rather it’s a disgrace that tax-paying citizens who are paying tax on our fuel levy, in addition to other taxes already syphoning funds out of our household budgets, have to ride on roads like this.

Dear NC Government, I have to ask, have you given up? Do you have what it takes to fix the wounds that were left there over time due to neglect, rather than putting a plaster on them? Have you forgotten what your mandate is to the people of the Northern Cape? Do you remember the promises you made to the Northern Cape?

Maybe it is time to sit down around a table again to strategise about what steps you will need to take to bring that road – and countless other roads – back to being safe to drive on. And if you can’t manage to do that, the blood of the victims who fall prey to the road of death will be on your hands.

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