Johannesburg’s pothole misery

by The Editor

FEATURE: In late 2011 I documented on Twitter a wide range of potholes as well as other examples of municipal infrastructure decay in Johannesburg. Today, some five months later, I returned and had a look to see if any of them had been dealt with. I am sure anyone who lives in Johannesburg will be able to guess what I found. Read on for a short photographic tour of neglect and deterioration.

Johannesburg’s pothole misery

By: Gareth van Onselen

3 May 2012

In December last year, as a purely anecdotal undertaking, while walking round parts of Johannesburg I decided to take a series of pictures of the numerous potholes I encountered over the course of several days. I Tweeted all the pictures and used the hashtag #JHBpotholes, for anyone interested in seeing all of them (@GvanOnselen).

I included among them some other examples of the decay of public property, leaking water, missing man hole covers, neglected public amenities and so on.

That was some five months ago.

This past week I visited Johannesburg again and, while I did not have the time or inclination to undertake as extensive an exercise this time as I did in December, I thought it might be interesting to visit some of the potholes I identified last time and see if any of them had been dealt with.

What follows, then, is a comparative set of pictures of some of the biggest potholes I encountered in December 2011 and their current condition in May 2012, some five months later.

As Dennis Davis says, judge for yourself.

Ennis Road, Parkview


December 2011 on the left, May 2012 on the right.

Congo Road, Emmerentia


December 2011 on the left, May 2012 on the right.

Dudley Road, Rosebank


Protected by this helpful make-shift fence, this pothole is showing some good signs of being able to sustain life. After five months, some healthy looking grass and greenery has taken root. May 2012 on right.

Dudley Road, Rosebank


I will say this for the residents of Dudley Road, they have some of the most well-protected potholes in Johannesburg. Perhaps the reason they haven’t be repaired.

Cowie Road, Forest Town


Forest Town is where President Zuma has one of several ‘compounds’. The pothole in this picture is not far from it. And it’s a biggie, almost as big as a car (see May 2012 picture on right), in the middle of a four-way crossing.

Kafue Road, Emmerentia


Another pothole which remains absolutely unchanged, so much so, it too is growing grass and has been for some time.

Parkhurst Public Swimming Pool


They do seem to have cut the grass since December, but the swimming pool remains closed, the water below level and green and the pool surrounded by rubble.

Parkhurst Public Tennis Courts


This court remains so dilapidated I would suggest it cannot be played on.

Parkview Tennis Courts

I didn’t photograph the Parkvew Courts in 2011, but they were much the same. Nonetheless, I thought the deterioration so bad, I would include it here.

I photographed some 40 examples of muncipal infrastructure decay in 2011 and, as I say, have not had time to visit every site on this trip and so this represents just a small sample. It might well be true that some potholes have been fixed over the past five years but I think it is significant that not one of those I checked in on had been touched.

This is by no means a scientific survey either, merely a bit of ad hoc analysis. I am sure the problem is much greater and far more widespread too. But significant it certainly is.

One important indicator of infrastructure decay is water leakage. Every municipality suffers a loss year-on-year through water leakage (old pipes, for example), so much so that the Auditor-General has taken recently to recording the amount in his reports (water rates, along with electricity, are a significant source of revenue for a municipality – lose water and you lose income and that effects one’s ability to deliver services, especially to the poor). In 2010/11, Johannesburg lost R827 million in this way.

There were many examples of water leakages in 2011 (see my Twitter timeline) and, again, this time round it was hard not to drive through an area without seeing an example.

Johanneburg has a ‘pothole hotline’ now but its inefficiencies are demonstrated by, for example, the first picture in the collection. That ‘pothole’ was caused by roads maintenance: workers cut into the road to repair somthing beneath it and never covered it back up. That was over three years ago. Report that to the hotline, however, and they will tell you they only refill ‘natural’ potholes (potholes that have come about through natural wear and tear). So, one sits with a hole in the road for three years because Johannesburg has a dispute over definitions.

With this kind of attitude to the roads and their maintenance, little wonder so many people across Johannesburg deeply resent the idea of e-tolling.


On finishing this piece, it was brought to my attention by a reader that Dial Direct, which had for sometime, in conjunction with LeadSA, driven an initiative to work together with Johannesburg City to fix potholes, was terminating its services. You can read their explanation on their website. Among the reasons given they argued that “our efforts have been continually thwarted and at the end of the day, The Dial Direct Pothole Brigade cannot be sustained without the buy-in and support of government”. This explains much – not only the fact that the potholes I identified were never repaired but that there exists no real will on the part of the ANC administration to fix them in the first place. It is ironic indeed that the ANC, which so often berates the private sector for not “coming on board”, cannot fulfill even its meagre obligations to citizens when business does just that. What an indictment.

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