As water pipeline cock-up leaves West Rand in endless misery ...
It was supposed to have been done over a year ago, it's been bedevilled by delays. Now a vital road has been closed
A main road connecting Johannesburg’s western and northern areas has suffered structural damage, the latest in a “nightmarish” pipeline project that is said to have killed a construction worker, caused power and water cuts and the demise of small businesses.
Residents’ frustration spring from the so-called F46 Rand Water pipeline project that has disrupted lives in the Weltevreden Park and Fairland areas, northwest of Johannesburg, since its start in May 2016. It was supposed to have been completed by October 2017, but a series of unfortunate events has caused countless delays – and now the closure of Ninth Avenue, a main road carrying traffic in and out of the West Rand every day.
Residents were informed of the latest development in a Facebook message posted last Sunday night.
A parent said the morning school run of 4km now takes her an hour and a half, while residents also believe the project threatens the ecosystem of a green belt in the area and has drained a dam, an accusation denied by the contractor earlier this year. This dam is right next to the road that was closed amid concerns about its “structural integrity”.
“It’s a continuing nightmare,” said Dave Baxter, chairperson of the Panorama Residents’ Association in Weltevreden Park.
“I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been without power because they have cut power cables. At some point they also hit water pipe,” he said.
In September 2017, community newspapers reported that a construction worker died after falling into an excavated area where he was buried under soil.
The 4km pipeline project, from Whiteridge Waterval to the Weltevreden Reservoir, has affected businesses in the area, most notably on the once bustling Ninth Avenue.
“It’s been hell,” said Tyrone Henna, who owns an auto fitment centre in the Devon Valley Shopping Centre on Ninth Avenue.
“I’m at my wits end with these people [the contractors], ever since they started working here. We’ve had one problem after the other.
“One week they’d cut electricity cables and we would go for two to three days without electricity, and when that is fixed they would hit water pipes and we would be without water. There’s always something that they do wrong.
“As you can see, the road is closed now but no work is being done. Those people are not doing anything,” a visibly frustrated Henna said, pointing to six workers standing around, one of them redirecting traffic.
Rand Water spokesperson Justice Mohale said the project would be completed by May 2018, adding that there were a number of reasons for the delays.
“Work was held up due to a delay in finalising the acquisition of the land due to objection by the land owner. Weather conditions such as rainfall, and unsuitable conditions disrupted normal construction procedures and municipal services that are not documented.”
Efforts to obtain comment from the contractor, Maziya General Services, were fruitless. Times Select was referred to Johan Pretorius, who is said to be one of the managers. He referred Times Select to site manager Howard Sibanda. When contacted, Sibanda said he was unable to talk because he was driving. He promised to get back to Times Select, but he never did.
On Sunday evening residents were alerted by a notice on Facebook saying the road would be closed.
“Please note that as from Sunday night until further notice Haak en Steek/9th Ave Weltevredenpark will be closed to all traffic between Snelskaats and Rugby Road. Engineers are concerned with the structural integrity of 9th Ave site where Rand Water is working – the ground is too wet to work on over the weekend – 9th will be closed from late Sunday night to allow for the remedial work to be done. There are a few alternate routes: either 14th Ave or Jim Fouche,” reads the message that was placed on most groups.
Henna remarked: “This is just another problem. No one is saying exactly what the problem is and how long it will take to fix. The only information we have so far is what is on the notice.”
In the same shopping centre, a barber’s business is also suffering. Mani Kumar, 21, who works at Mumbai Express, said he was seeing fewer clients, with the past week being the worst.
He said that on average, before the roadworks began about two years ago, the shop would see between 30 and 40 clients on a good day. Last week there had only been five.
“The road closure is too bad for business. It’s increasing the travelling distance and time and I think people opt to cut their hair somewhere else.”
Resident Ella Marais, who lives in Weltevreden Park and takes her child to Laerskool Fairland every weekday morning, said the 4km commute now takes her an hour and a half.
“It’s a nightmare. It takes us close to one hour and 30 minutes to travel from Cornelius Street to the school. You should come here during peak-hour traffic and see what it’s like. It’s a parking lot.
“The traffic between Rugby and 9th Avenue has always been a problem during peak hours, but now it’s worse. It used to take us about 30 minutes to get to the school,” she told Times Select.
Those using taxis were now forced to walk long distances for transport. “Because the road is closed off, we get off very far. I now add an extra 15 minutes’ time to walk to get to work,” said Siyabonga Khumalo, who works as a gardener in Fairland.
A low-lying bridge is part of the road that has been closed. Ninth Avenue runs through a green belt and used to have a small dam next to it.
“I believe that at least 90% of the dam water has drained away,” Baxter was quoted as saying in April, according to the Roodepoort Northsider. But the project’s community liaison officer, Jan von der Heyde, said the drainage of the dam was not connected to the pipeline project. “There’s no connection whatsoever … it’s just an assumption,” he said.
Johannesburg Road Agency MD Goodwill Mbatha said last week only 6% of the 902 bridges managed by the city were in a good condition. The remaining 94% needed immediate intervention, and the cost estimate was more than R6,5bn.
An overall amount of about R12bn was needed to fix 4,000km of failed road infrastructure, a budget the city did not have.
The Johannesburg Roads Agency is yet to respond to questions.