The KZN Agricultural Union, Kwanalu, on Wednesday 13 April hosted a high level Roads Impact webinar together with leaders of the province’s Farmer’s and Landowners Associations to deliberate the chronic state and continued decline of rural roads in KZN, the impact of this on food security and a way forward to receiving urgent action in addressing these concerns. The meeting was also attended by leaders of Agri Eastern Cape and Agri Free State.
The webinar forms part of Kwanalu’s campaign to address the chronic condition of roads and general infrastructure stifling food security and economic growth in the province.
“The collective effort of provincial agricultural unions is essential to invoking urgent action on a problem that affects everyone in the country. Agriculture and rural livelihoods are affected, but so too are the general public who rely on this supply chain for food,” Kwanalu CEO, Sandy La Marque told delegates.
The objective of the meeting was to ascertain a way forward for farmers and the extended agricultural sector in seeking solutions, as to date efforts by Farmers Associations and Kwanalu in trying to work together with municipalities and local government have fallen on deaf ears.
The webinar attendees heard from a delegation from Agri EC which included CEO Brent McNamara, Economics and Natural Resources Manager, Gunther Pretorius and Conrad Battenhaussen from RJM Attorneys. In 2017 Agri EC was successfully granted a court order by the Grahamstown High Court against the Eastern Cape Roads Department for repair and maintenance services of the province’s gravel roads which following non-compliance of the court order, this was reinforced by the court in 2020.
“After a two year process, Agri Eastern Cape were able to get finality on an issue that had plagued the province for years. While it incurred major legal costs, the process has taught us some valuable lessons that we are happy to share with other agricultural unions with similar infrastructural issues,” said Battenhaussen.
Farmers in the Eastern Cape breathed a sigh of relief that the dilapidated rural roads would be attended to when Judge Beshe ordered the MEC for Transport to file a report within 30 days of all maintenance carried out on the roads identified from June 2018, record and report on all planned future maintenance, and report on progress in respect of negotiations with Treasury.
“While there are still roads that need repair and maintenance, we were able to establish Agri Eastern Cape as a major role player and we received the budget clarity needed to find real solutions to the problem,” said McNamara.
Following floods in the Free State last year and subsequent severe damage to rural roads, Agri FS desperately sought response from the Free State Roads Department. After no feedback was received, the Union is now investigating amongst other the Disaster Management Act with legal representatives for a solution.
Agri FS CEO Gernie Botha and Operations Manager, Dr Jack Armour, shared their progress on the issue in the webinar.
“Input from farmers’ associations is a necessity in developing a paper trail that can be used to receive urgent action from provincial roads departments. we have requested clarity on the budgetary allocations for road infrastructure and are awaiting feedback,” said Botha.
“After numerous requests for the reallocation of funds to roads being ignored, we are now looking into public-private partnership agreements following an assessment by engineers. We are also ensuring that we have strong local community Roads Forums in place to receive feedback and establish budget optimisation on the most affected routes,” Dr Armour informed attendees.
The discussion and feedback received from the webinar are set to shape the way forward for Kwanalu. Currently Kwanalu is also awaiting feedback to meetings requested with the KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Ms Peggy Nkonyeni, the Department of Transport Director General, Alec Moemi and other relevant officials.
“We hope to receive a response for engagement soon. If not, we may have to look into legal and practical support as advised by key speakers from other provincial unions today,” La Marque informed Association leaders.
“It’s unfortunate that we as agricultural unions need to resort to legal means for basic rights and budget clarity. It is simply not sustainable to continue with these infrastructural problems as it won’t only be agriculture that is affected, it will have an impact on everybody,” said Battenhaussen.