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SA’s R416bn road maintenance backlog

Hiking the Vat rate to 19% would be one way of addressing the problem.
‘Roads that are contributing positively should be kept and those that are not should be actively unproclaimed,' says transport economist. Image: Moneyweb

The cost to eradicate South Africa’s road maintenance backlog has more than doubled to R416.6 billion from about R197 billion in 2013.

This is one of the conclusions reached in research conducted by Matthew Townshend, a transport economist and economics PhD student at the University of Cape Town. He presented his findings at the Southern African Transport Conference in Pretoria this week.

Townshend says the magnitude of the backlog means it will be immensely difficult to eradicate. “At best, we can perhaps address [the backlog] over the long term, especially given South Africa’s current low growth trajectory and the National Treasury’s commitment to fiscal consolidation.”

‘High degree of prioritisation’ needed

He adds that a high degree of prioritisation is required within the road network maintenance space and that possible alternative funding sources to finance the backlog within a five-year period have been explored.

The maintenance backlog would take up the entire R400 billion budget for the new economic stimulus plan presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa, says Townshend. It would also equate to an extra four percentage points on the value-added tax (Vat) rate, or add an extra R3 a litre to the national fuel levy.

He says the opportunity cost in redirecting the entire economic stimulus plan would be extremely high, while the idea of increasing the Vat rate to 19% is not realistic, given how difficult it was from a political economy perspective to get the recent one percentage point hike approved.

Townshend believes the welfare cost of an extra R3 a litre added to the national fuel levy seems “relatively palatable in relation to the other options”.

The big paved road backlog

Townshend says R61.2 billion is required to eradicate the functional paved road backlog. The functional backlog is the performance indicator set by the Department of Transport that no more than 10% of the road network should be in a poor or very poor condition.

The majority of this backlog is concentrated in provincial roads networks. “Although provinces are only responsible for 29.9% of the total paved road network, they actually account for 78.1% of the functional backlog … and are a very large driver of the paved roads maintenance backlog,” says Townshend.

The massive gravel road backlog

He adds that 77.5% of all gravel roads are currently in poor and very poor condition, which translates into a R243.7 billion functional backlog. “There are huge backlogs on the gravel road network and that in itself is surpassing the figure which is currently being reported as the total road maintenance backlog.”

The research is pointing to a shift in emphasis towards sealing solutions for gravel roads, instead of rehabilitating them and maintaining them as gravel roads.

To upgrade only the high volume gravel roads, the majority of which are within the provinces, will take R115 billion, says Townshend – and he stresses that not all of these gravel roads should be maintained.

“We are looking at such high backlog estimates that there needs to be a rationalisation exercise. Roads which are contributing positively should be kept and those that are not should be actively unproclaimed to try and get these figures to reasonable quantums that the department can address.”

Townshend points out that the provincial road maintenance backlog of R150.7 billion is six times the provincial annual expenditure, while the municipal road maintenance backlog of R242.9 billion is eight times the annual expenditure of municipalities.

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The problem is when they fill the potholes, within 2 years the pot hole is back. Sounds like job security to me, OR just a plain shoddy job!

SA only has 2 Professional Road Engineers, those with the skills have left.

For 25 years the anc has interfered with business and not done it’s job by governing…

Pretoria Road in Benoni took 4 years to rebuild with 6 different contractors and endless mess.
That rebuilt road is now falling apart, check the web for Road thicknesses per country. SA is of the thinnest.

on top of it, we have more than enough coal to ensure a decent tar layer, but once again where was the control over this work??? any tests done??, who signed it off and approved it??? – how can it be done, if all the road engineers and technicians left for greener fields overseas – and the controller of any such job is currently a glorified admin clerk in a plush office who do not want to make his hands dirty with a hands on job.

Sorry but you’re talking complete nonsense.

I am a Pr Eng roads engineer, so I must be one of the 2 you’re referring to, except I have multiple professionally registered colleagues working in the geometric design and maintenance of roads. All in SA. Go to and click on “who’s registered.” Plenty of Pr Eng Civil Engineers still left in SA.

As for the thickness of the roads. You’re presumably referring to the seal or the asphalt surfacing? In countries like Canada or the US the asphalt is generally far thicker than in SA, but this is because of cold temperatures. SA’s roads’ surfacing thickness, as well as the thickness of the layers underneath the roads, are in line with international best practices for hot countries.

There were and still is very competent people at SANRAL with an interest for good road infrastructure BUT they were sidelined by politicians and civil servants that were waiting with hands behind the back for money- same applies to water affairs and Treasury. This was the case for many years

It’s not just roads. A lot of water, sewage, rail, ports, electricity and other vital infrastructure is ageing and approaching its end of life.

This is a problem globally too. Hence all countries have massive infrastructure plans they want to get off the ground, but almost none of them actually do anything. In South Africa we also have abundant unskilled/unemployed labour too.

So the million dollar question is ….why not?

Simple answer is energy inputs are too expensive to do the job (oil and electricity too expensive, labour costs too high) and in South Africa a skills shortage and corruption ensure that a lot of what we attempt is just wasted.

And public grants are voting fodder for government much more so than fixing potholes, so guess where the money goes.

These kind of backlogs and spending choices are really just signs of impending collapse. 20 years down the line things are bound to be much worse.

Add eradicating pit toilets in schools to your list.

Just the latest in the saga of 25 years of neglect due to plunder and thievery. Those roads that did get a bit of a makeover were done shoddily by comrades at inflated prices. Welcome to Africa

Let the Truck owners pay for the damages to our roads.Start getting the railway system back to work again.
The SA Boat is busy to sink faster than the Titanic.

On a positive note….the roads in KZN are fantastic – some of the best in the world in fact! We might have one of the worst performing municipalities, the highest crime rates and more cases of taxi violence and political frauds than anywhere else in the country…but boy, do we have fantastic roads!

The problem would be solved by stopping the grand theft happening at Municipal levels and using the money for education, birth control and public transportation. In my opinion!

Ringfence the existing road levy. Thats 80 billion rand right there per year.
And bring provincial roads under control of sanral. They dont and never will prioritize it themselves

Maintenance is a word that does not exist in the vocabulary of the corrupt ANC government, to them, maintenance is a means of pilfering money. Before they took control, SA had the best transport infrastructure in Africa, excellent roads and railway lines. All gone for a ball of pot and now sitting with a huge problem which the taxpayer will have to pay for. The only train still running is the gravy train.

Wonder if the R416.6 billion include the 30% the construction mafia wants.

I am also not sure the rates he used will be applicable any longer. Many of the better road builders have gone bust and the skills have gone. You want them back you will have to pay or you continue with the riffraff.

Total all the money stolen/wasted by the collective and we could fix everything and still have a large chunk of change left over.

I lay the blame for everything wrong in SA squarely at the feet of the collective. Don’t throw the apartheid card at me, 25+ years is more than enough to get things right, the problem is that they had no intention of fixing, it was about looting from day one. Mandela opened the door to the treasure trove, instead of using it, they stole it.

PurgeCoin needs to check his facts, please.
The fact that the BEE programme has left all three levels of government overstaffed with a pathetically incompetetent, poorly qualified technical staff is incontrovertible nevertheless.

If only there was a way to have direct funding of roads by users.. like with electricity, u use, u pay and it funds itself. Like a toll.. but a road, toll road? And since we in the 4th industrial revolution let’s make it electronic, an eToll..


Yah no, when people bitch about the remedial action to fund the Gauteng Highways which will have money either diverted from other funds or have a fuel levy in Gauteng I will be the 1st to point and laugh.

2ndly you know how Soweto doesn’t pay electricity.. don’t expect this to go away when motorist essentially pulled the same thing vs eTolls. You can try and justify it all you want but the reality doesn’t change. Just another day in SA.. but good news guys, with everyone leaving the people paying for infrastructure is diminishing fast so soon you too will pay for it all and wonder relook at the eToll of past and wonder why you didn’t pay it as it was cheap.

Not much is well maintained here in the socialist paradise of Anzania.
Eskom, SADF, SAPS, etc are broken. Maintenance is not a very ANC thing . Look at City Centres, sewerage systems, water systems etc.

Simply a slow and steady decline into another ruined African country…tragic!

Corruption and Greed has overtaken all SOEs thus leaving us in this mess. Welcome to the new “Banana Republic”

Road funds have been redirected to support a bankrupt govt. SOE’s unsustainable bloated wages and salaries, grossly inflated get rich quick and back pocket contracts. Bananas are expensive 🙂

My suggestion is to fill the potholes with cadres, the proverbial two birds with one stone strategy!

“Hiking the Vat rate to 19% would be one way of addressing the problem.”

Roy…Roy….Roy …..smh [ shaking my head ]

Seriously ?….so once again punish the man on the street to compensate for governments ABYSMAL corruption and dereliction of duty due to gross misappropriation of hard earned tax payers money !!?


And,while the tax rate is pushed higher again and again,and yet more money gets correspondingly squandered by govt thugs again and again, just keep punishing us by raising taxes AGAIN in this absurd vicious senseless cycle ……

Right ?

For crying out loud…..this is beyond sanity now.

Remember the joke? “What did Zimbabweans have before candles? Answer: electricity.”

Now to SA:
“What did Souph Efricans have before a semi-broken road network? Answer: an efficient rail network”

Maintenance is a western concept.

Other ways to address the problem is, to claim back monies owed by the different toll consortia, running i.e. Bakwena, etc. Also, to use the annual budget allocated to the Dept. of Transport Nationally, on provincial level as well as on municipal level. Additionally can a small amount be set aside from the fuel levy, to cover the capital cost of the eTol road/s.

Before the maligned “colonisation ” the only other people on this sad continent who could build roads were the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Romans….our chaps just don’t have a clue!

PAYE, VAT, Property taxes, Corporate taxes, Capital Gains taxes, etc. plus levies galore, e.g. Fuel levy, Road accident fund levy, a carbon levy … And God knows what else?! Fact is: A small portion of the population in SA is taxed to death. And what have they to show – not much I am afraid, because the swelling state coffers are looted to feed the frenzy of the corrupt, the immoral, the connected and the greedy. The problem is not the amount that is collected by SARS, but on who or what is it spent and by whom!

The moment Communications Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams addressed Parliament’s Communications Portfolio Committee yesterday and announced the SABC bail out everybody APPLAUDED! Can someone please explain why they clapped their hands? They should be ashamed.

I’m guessing the ANC as a party and a goodly number of its members were in for a share of that loot.

R460bn…now 55 of that is R23 BILLION
Nice amount to steal-ANC cadres must be salivating. Tender time!!!

End of comments.





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