Five years later, and residents are still waiting for tarred roads

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News 24

Five years after expecting stretches of gravel road spanning 23 kilometres to be upgraded, Lady Frere residents in the Eastern Cape continue to traverse this dangerous gauntlet, while the money for the project has been allocated elsewhere, GroundUp reports.

Road works started in 2014, but was never completed.

Residents have been left with more questions than answers about the R15 million project as well as having to continue to navigate these dangerous stretches of road.

Lady Frere falls under the Emalahleni Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape.

Big Eye Investments (BEI) was contracted by the Eastern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works to repair and replace gravel on four roads in the area.

Four months into the project, it was evident that BEI was not fulfilling its contractual obligations.

According to a report prepared for the Eastern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works by multinational consulting firm Aecom, the contract was terminated on November 28, 2014 for reasons including “poor progress, poor safety, and poor overall attitude".

The report said the company had shown “a clear lack of understanding of even basic construction norms”.

The report said BEI had been penalised for several safety transgressions. Site staff turnover was very high.

Approximately R3.5m of the allocated R15m was paid to the contractor.

“It is recommended that the Department consider excluding this contractor for award of future construction contracts," the report noted.

Unfinished roads

Five years later, the unfinished roads are still causing serious problems for residents, especially during the rainy season.

Motorists have reported damage to their vehicles and children cannot safely get to and from school.

Dumisani Soboyisi was on his way back to Cape Town on a rainy day when he missed a turn because the road surface was submerged in water. “The next thing my car was stuck in mud.”

He had to get a tractor to tow it out.

Siphelele Mnyaka said he had to pay R11 000 to fix his bakkie after it got stuck on the same road late last year.

“This is very frustrating because this road was supposed to be fixed by now. We are losing money and no one is going to pay us,” he said.

In October 2017, Lady Frere residents formed the Concerned Residents association in an effort to find answers.

“[It’s] difficult for [residents] to talk with the councillors because they respect the officials; they don’t complain,” said the association’s media liaison officer, Nomfusi Soboyisi.

“We’re not a political party, we’re just the locals, just the youth. We’re trying to talk on behalf of our parents.”

Residents say they met officials from the Emalahleni municipality but left the meeting without any concrete answers or tangible plans.

They also say they met with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), on March 28, 2018.

There they learnt that the remaining money had been paid to other contractors to build other roads elsewhere. It is unclear what criteria were used to select those roads.

Lukhanyo Fonte of Ndodana Consulting Engineers, who was hired to maintain the road after the BEI contract was terminated, said his firm had tried their best to patch up the roads and to build a small bridge. But some parts of the roads needed re-gravelling and his company was not hired to do that.

Eastern Cape government spokesperson Unathi Binqose confirmed that the contract with BEI had been terminated but declined to answer further questions.

BEI director Simon Ntuli did not respond to GroundUp’s questions.

BEI has come in for criticism previously on another contract.

According to a Saturday Star article published in May 2014, then Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi “named and shamed” the company “for neglecting potholes on a highway between Krugersdorp and Pretoria”. Ntuli, in turn, demanded that Vadi apologise, which he didn’t.

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