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The recent unrest which placed chokeholds on the N2, N3 and major roads around Durban, and destabilised supply chains in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are new 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 South Africa could face a socio-economic ‘heart attack’.

“The efficiency and speed in 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. It 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 our economic heart pumping,” says Solly Kganyago, Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concessionaire’s COO.

The transport sector in South Africa contributed R235 739 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product in the first quarter of 2021, according to Statistics South Africa and estimates from the rating agency, S&P suggest that the cost to the national economy caused by the riots sits at R50 billion.

However, the Road Freight Association said the country’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 manages 90 kilometres of the N1 running from Pretoria northwards to Bela-Bela and a 295-kilometre section of the N4 running from Pretoria westwards, through Rustenburg and Zeerust, to the Botswana border. These routes are responsible for transporting goods from South Africa to the Southern African Development Community region including Botswana, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, making them fundamental paths in sustaining the economy of southern Africa.

According to the latest Ctrack Freight Transport Index more than 150 million tons of cargo was transported by road between January and March 2021, compared to just 40 million moved by rail.

Road Freight Association CEO, Gavin Kelly says 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? We can keep South Africa fed but we 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,” says Kelly.

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 due to their respective geographies. This vast transportation network also connects rural and urban neighbourhoods, allowing 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 towards 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.

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