SANRAL admitted that the R524 (Levubu road) has reached its end of design life and is no longer able to cope with the amount of traffic it carries daily. Because of this, road conditions have become notoriously dangerous, and a major redesign and upgrade of the road are necessary. This follows yet another recent fatal accident on the road, which claimed the life of 14-year-old Daniëlle Mitchell.

SANRAL promises action

Date: 03 May 2024 By: Andries van Zyl

Family and friends paid their final respects to 14-year-old Daniëlle Mitchell from Levubu on Saturday, 27 April. This young Grade 8 student from Merensky Agricultural Academy passed away after an accident on the notorious R524 (Levubu Road) on 14 April. The accident once again highlighted the poor state of the road and the snail's pace at which the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), as the responsible road authority, is apparently addressing the deadly road conditions.

Daniëlle died in hospital just hours after the accident she and her mother, Karlo, were involved in. The accident is said to have been the direct result of an oncoming motorist’s having to swerve for a pothole and colliding head-on with the Mitchells' vehicle. Daniëlle was the only fatality. The accident was one of many to have occurred on this road in recent months because of the poor road conditions. Just two weeks before Daniëlle’s fatal crash, another Levubu family (Enrico, Melanie and Elmé Louw) was also involved in a serious head-on collision on the same road, which claimed the life of the driver of the other vehicle.

“The road did not become bad overnight. It has been like this for years now,” said Fanie Havinga, chairman of the Soutpansberg District Agricultural Union. He represented the local farming community during a meeting held with SANRAL representatives and the Mitchell family last Friday, a day before Daniëlle’s memorial service. Havinga stated that the state of the road was unacceptable as it jeopardised the safety of everyone who used it as a lifeline to the outside world. Included are parents taking their children to school daily, those having to travel to Louis Trichardt to do their shopping, and farmers trying to get their goods to the markets.

“We spoke about several aspects of the road, including the potholes. They said they will begin by fixing the potholes,” said Jan Joubert, a family representative of the Mitchell family who attended the meeting. The fixing of potholes was said to begin within the next week or so.

But for both Joubert and Havinga, merely fixing the potholes is not enough. Their biggest argument was that the R524 was never designed to carry the amount of traffic using the road at present. They also addressed the dangerous washed-up road shoulders and overgrown road reserves, which make leaving the road safely when trying to avoid accidents impossible. The possibility of speed bumps was also discussed. As for long-term planning for the rehabilitation of the road, Joubert said that they were told that SANRAL would start upgrading the R524 by 2025. “But that is still months away,” said Joubert.

He added that the SANRAL representatives had offered to schedule another meeting with them and senior SANRAL officials within the next few weeks. “They were very forthcoming and listened to what we said… The ball is in their court now,” said Joubert.

Havinga was, however, less optimistic about the meeting and said that although things had gone well, he did not have a lot of hope. “Promises were made, but will they materialise? I don’t know,” said Havinga. He was referring to the numerous promises made by SANRAL to the community in the past. Promises like those made by SANRAL in October 2020 during a “Taking SANRAL to the People” stakeholder meeting in Thohoyandou, when SANRAL said that the rehabilitation of the R524 would be prioritised.

SANRAL was asked what exactly they had done since October 2020 to “prioritise” the upgrading of the R524. In response, Madoda Mthembu (Operations and Maintenance Manager: SANRAL Northern Region) said that in 2020, the R524 had still been under design, but it had since been finalised. “There are planned upgrades along the R524. The designs have been finalised and SANRAL will be letting out construction tenders during the 2024 calendar year. The scope [of work] includes rehabilitation of the road and increasing the capacity of the road to handle increased traffic volumes,” Mthembu said.

Mthembu stated that the R524 currently carries approximately 12,960 vehicles per day, of which five percent are heavy vehicles. “The road has reached the end of its design life and therefore will no longer be able to carry high traffic volumes,” he said. Mthembu’s statement concurs with what people like Havinga have been saying for years now, and that the poor state of the road is mainly due to its never having been designed to carry so much traffic.

Although this was good news for Havinga and Joubert that SANRAL is planning to start upgrading the R524 in 2025, they wanted to know how SANRAL planned to manage traffic during the construction. “SANRAL makes provision for traffic accommodation, which may include detours, stop/go operations, or temporary bypasses during construction. SANRAL maintains these temporary deviations during construction. The project will not involve other secondary roads that are outside SANRAL’s jurisdiction,” said Mthembu.

In mentioning “other secondary roads,” Mthembu was referring to Road Agency Limpopo (RAL) roads such as the D4 road between Levubu and Elim. Havinga stated that the D4 must be rehabilitated before work on the R524 can begin, to help alleviate traffic congestion. “I told them in no uncertain terms [during last week’s meeting] that residents from Levubu cannot wait for two or three hours at stop-and-go points on the road every morning. We have children who must get to school and people must get to work ... There is no way you can accommodate 12,000 or 13,000 vehicles a day with stop-and-go points,” said Havinga.

As for the follow-up meeting with SANRAL to address outstanding issues regarding the R524, Joubert and Havinga are anxiously waiting for a date. For them, the fact is that the longer you wait, the more people will get hurt or die on this road. It again begs the question: How many more people must die before action is taken?



Viewed: 1807



Andries van Zyl

Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.


More photos...