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First Klaas pothole repairs

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There are still people in this country who are willing to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but we often ignore them, writes Lance Fredericks.

A young man does some touch-up work on a pothole that he had filled up a few days earlier. Unemployed young people all over Kimberley have taken it upon themselves to patch up the city’s roads in the hopes of making some sort of income. Picture: Lance Fredericks

THE OTHER day, I found myself driving behind a beautiful, new white SUV with a goofy grin on my face.

It had been raining quite heavily and I watched this impressive mean machine swerving all over the place while I cruised along behind it splashing torrents either side of my jalopy.

The SUV reminded me of Lewis Hamilton’s AMG Mercedes as he came swerving out of the pits on the hard compound tyres at the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix on Sunday.

Now, in the defence of the SUV driver, we were driving through puddles on Aristotle Avenue, and by now most drivers are aware of the massive, deep, dangerous potholes on that curve in the road.

But I had an advantage … I had seen Klaas Wewers on that curve the previous day. I had full confidence in Klaas’ handiwork and so I could maintain a perfect racing line.

A few days before, I had stopped my car to chat to the young man. Slightly out of breath and dripping with sweat, Klaas told me where he was from, and explained how one day he was sitting on the side of the road when he heard a car going through a massive pothole in Samaria Road.

He said the sound ‘hurt’ him and he had said to himself, “I can do something about that.” So he got himself some tools and a bucket, collected some sand and stone chips and set about filling and compacting the material into the pothole.

Several residents had been taking turns and filling up the gaping hole – about the size of two driveways – for months, but with them having homes, families and other jobs, one can understand why they could not keep their hand on the job … a few days left unattended or a good downpour and the cavernous hole would open up again.

But Klaas told me in almost musical Afrikaans, “I see I made a bit of a mistake on this hole. I used too much sand, and the cars that have dropped suspensions are struggling, so I am levelling out this hump.”

He continued, “Then I have to check on the other two holes down the road, to see how they are holding up.”

I was impressed that he even had a maintenance plan.

Unemployed young people all over Kimberley have taken it upon themselves to patch up the city’s roads in the hopes of making some sort of income. Picture: Lance Fredericks

And this lad is dedicated. On Wednesday morning it was spitting rain all morning. But when I went down the road, there he was in the drizzle, maintaining his repairs. The month had been harsh for me. Cash has been a scarce commodity of late. It’s so bad that I swear that I can hear the ATMs giggle as I walk by. But I just had to stop to give him something.

Look, we can argue that he was just working in the drizzle to guilt someone into giving him some money, but to me that didn’t matter. I felt that the road was being maintained and it felt good that I could do something to show my appreciation.

In stark contrast to the diligence of Klaas and the other young people doing spot repairs to potholes all over the city, just a few hundred metres from where I spoke to him, a team of eight workers in smart overalls were busy repairing a driveway that had been dug up when the municipality repaired a burst water pipe a few weeks ago.

I was not watching these workers all the time, but I was driving up and down quite a bit during the day while they were ‘busy’ and not once did I see more than two of them working on the driveway at a time. While two were busy, the rest of them sat around waiting for their turn, to do what they specialise in, I assumed.

By the end of a full day, the team of eight men had cleared the rubble and evened out the driveway with rakes. As I drove by the worksite – or maybe I should call it a leisure site – that night, I couldn’t help thinking that Klaas, with his work ethic, could have achieved that much in two hours.

Such a lack of diligence and application is frustrating, yes, but it gets worse.

Not too far away on the Boshoff Road near the bridge, something absolutely insane seems to be happening. By all appearances it seems to me that the metal light poles, meant to illuminate a dangerous stretch of road near the railway bridge, are being ‘harvested’.

At last count I saw that two poles were missing, while another three were pushed over … probably to be sawn off, sawn up and sold later on. Whether they are being sold for scrap metal I do not know. Apparently scrap metal dealers keep an accurate log of all incoming metal, so I do not know for what purpose the poles are being … harvested.

So while young people like Klaas are repairing and maintaining things, groups of formally employed workers are enjoying their easy lives, and other people are breaking down the country’s infrastructure, we can only imagine in which direction we are sliding post-apartheid.

In fact, speaking of that evil, recently I was in the company when an older gentleman, speaking to a middle-aged man, said how much better the city of Kimberley looked during apartheid. No, he was not glamorising the evil ideology, he stressed, he was just saying that the city was better maintained back then.

The younger man reminded the old gent that during apartheid, the country was maintained by the forced labour of the oppressed, which to him was not on. The older man nodded and said quietly, “Too true, but does that mean that the liberated are not prepared to work hard to maintain the country? Do people these days have to be forced, threatened or bribed to do their jobs that they are being paid for?”

I hear that old man’s words bouncing around in my mind every time I see Klaas’ smiling face as he waves at drivers gliding over the smooth patch he’s created and so diligently maintains.

And, oddly enough, it’s in his face that I see hope for South Africa …

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