The background to this matter is that nuclear waste is transported on a road from Pelindaba to Springbok and from there to Vaalputs where it is stored. The road from Pelindaba to Springbok had been upgraded but not the road from Springbok to Vaalputs. The communities in five settlements near Springbok have to use the R355 and the condition of that road is in a terrible state and contravened international regulations on the transportation of nuclear waste.
The National Department of Transport (NDOT) responded to the petition to Parliament from over 200 residents of Rooifontein and Kamasies, lodged by Ms Veronica van Dyk (MP) on 19 November 2015. The community wanted the road upgraded to asphalt. It was determined that the road belonged to the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works. The road has a low volume of traffic. NDOT said the Minister of Transport supported the demands of the community for the road to be upgraded. The province had been asked to prioritise the upgrade.
The province had responded to say that the road had extremely low traffic volumes and that it was not on the list of roads due for upgrading. The national Department of Transport would work closely with the province and would also try to get outside funding support for the upgrading of this road.
The Chairperson said that NDOT had two weeks within which they had to respond with more details of the work they were doing with the provincial department. Attention had to be paid to economic, social and environmental issues. An oversight visit was necessary. The Northern Cape Portfolio Committee on Minerals, Tourism, Agriculture, Communication and Energy also had to receive this information. The Portfolio Committee would provide regular feedback to the community.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone and apologised for the late start of the meeting due to the late arrival of the officials of the Department of Transport and the last minute attempts to get a translator since the delegation could only speak and understand Afrikaans.
The Chairperson opened the meeting by introducing members of the Portfolio Committee on Transport. She requested members of the community to introduce themselves.
The Chairperson requested the members of the community to make a presentation.
Community members from Rooifontein and Kamasies in Namaqualand
Mr Ernie Joone, a farmer representing Agri-Gamoep, thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity to make the presentation. He said that over the past 12 years their petitions had fallen on deaf ears.
He said that the background to this matter was the storage of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is transported on a road from Pelindaba to Springbok and from there to Vaalputs where it is stored. The road from Pelindaba to Springbok had been upgraded but not the road from Springbok to Vaalputs. The condition of that road contravened international regulations on the transportation of nuclear waste.
He said that the community had been assured that the nuclear waste that was being transported was not dangerous. But the community was not convinced that this was the case since the waste was ultimately stored in safe areas, which were free from seismic activity. The community believed that the waste as well as the roads were dangerous and when the condition of the road is not good, nuclear waste could be spilled which could have adverse consequences for the environment and members of the community.
He circulated photos of the roads, which illustrated the conditions of the roads. It was important to note that there were no warning signs on the roads.
Over the past year or two, four trucks had gone off the road due to their steering racks being damaged. There was also a problem with stray animals. The road is in such a poor state that the barrels of diesel on the backs of trucks have burst due to the bumping. In rainy weather, the rivers overflow and there are no safe crossings. Vehicles can then not use the roads and have to wait for days for the river to subside. There are no warning signs. The local municipality tried to fix the road but after just 3 mm of rain recently, two trucks went off the road. Recently two police vehicles and an ambulance were overturned in pursuit of a stolen vehicle.
The Community agrees with the President that the country needs economic growth, creation of jobs and infrastructure development. All three priorities can be addressed if this problem is solved.
Mr Nel, a farmer of the Rooifontein community, said that everyone in five settlements near Springbok had to use the R355 which was in a terrible state. There were no shopping centres, police stations, clinics or hospitals near these communities. There are no telephones or internet connection. The community is therefore forced to use the road to Springbok.
There is lots of small scale farming but the lack of access to markets makes these farming activities vulnerable. In winter, there is a beautiful display of flowers but tourists cannot access this area due to the poor road conditions.
About 20 kilometres from Garies a road had been tarred. That road had been tarred because an MEC, Dawid Rooi, lives there. Only 300 residents live in that area while the Rooifontein community comprises about 5 000 people.
Department of Transport response to petition
Mr Whitey Maphakela, Acting Chief Director: Road Infrastructure and Industry Development, Department of Transport, said the Department had received a letter from Ms Veronica van Dyk on 19 November 2015 about a petition signed by over 200 residents of Rooifontein and Kamasies. The petition was about a road which the community wanted to be upgraded. It was alleged that the road was a national road for which South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) was responsible. SANRAL and the Northern Cape provincial government were consulted to determine the ownership of the road. It is a gravel road in a very poor condition. It was determined that the road belonged to the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works. The road is bladed on a monthly basis. The road has a low volume of traffic. The average annual daily traffic count of the road is 67 vehicles (at peak), of which 60 are light vehicles.
The Minister of Transport supported the demands of the community for the road to be upgraded. The province had been asked to prioritise the upgrade.
The province had responded to say that the road had extremely low traffic volumes and that it was not on the list of roads due for upgrading. The province was currently experiencing budgetary constraints. Many roads in the province required work. Currently, attention for road upgrades is on John Taolo Gaetsewe Municipality where schools were closed due to community protests about the poor condition of the roads.
The National Department of Transport would work closely with the province and would also try to get outside funding support for the upgrading of this road.
Mr Joone said that the roads were not being bladed on a monthly basis as claimed. The quality of work on the roads and bridges is poor since there were no proper civil engineers involved in the work. Meanwhile the community had contacted the State Security Agency. They were of the view that the road had to be tarred, even as far as to Bitterfontein.
Mr Maphakela said that he did not know about the qualifications of the people involved with the construction of roads. The Department is taking seriously the fact that the road is of strategic importance.
Mr Joone said that the Northern Cape is a poorly populated province. Budget was allocated according to population and not to the size of the road network. This was a problem as the Northern Cape has 80% of the road network and only 4% of the population. Improvement in infrastructure was central to the development of communal farming.
Mr G Radebe (ANC) said that the road affects the community and the economy of their area. How do cars travel if bridges are damaged? What is the Department going to do about it? The Department must give an estimation of time within which the matter would be addressed. He proposed that an oversight visit should take place to the area.
Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) asked that community members respond to the fact that only 67 vehicles used the road per day. In the 12 years, when last has the community spoken to the provincial government about this? The pictures depict a bad state but the Northern Cape MEC of Roads and Public Works did not say anything about this road in his budget speech. When last has the province been engaged by the national Department?
Mr T Muluadzi (EFF) asked which company was transporting the nuclear waste. He supported the proposal for an oversight visit. He was surprised that the Department was not sure about the jurisdiction over the road networks. This means there is no communication between the province and the Department. What about the mining houses which are contributing to the deterioration of the roads? Has a similar study been done on the road to the MEC's village?
Mr C Hunsinger (DA) said that the point of the matter was the nuclear waste. At Vaalputs nuclear waste was being handled very delicately. The barrels of waste are processed very carefully before they are buried. Taking note of the care and diligence with which waste was handled at Pelindaba and Vaalputs, why were different standards being applied over the 20 km of untarred road. The wrong criteria were being used. Is the road from Koeberg in the same condition? What is the role of the mines in all of this? He had a problem in general with using the traffic volume as a criterion. Consideration had to be given to the impact of the traffic, not just the volume. Account also had to be taken of economic development and job creation. He recommended that as a matter of urgency that warning traffic signs had to be prioritised. He asked whether it was not preferable to use rail rather than road for the transport of nuclear waste.
Ms D Carter (COPE) asked why the roads were not being bladed on a monthly basis. She had a problem with the criteria that was being used. The road serves 5 000 community members. This matter should not end here. The Departments of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Communications and Tourism also had to assist. Pelindaba and Koeberg also had to assist.
Mr M Sibande (ANC) asked whether this was the relevant platform for this discussion? This required an interdepartmental intervention. The presentation from the Department said that the road belonged to the province. There was also concern about the spilling of diesel, international norms and standards and social responsibility of companies? Did Ms van Dyk consult with the provincial department? What are the recommendations that are supported by the Minister? More information had to be obtained prior to an oversight visit.
Mr M Maswanganyi (ANC) said that work had to be done with the national and provincial departments before the visit. The Committee had to appreciate the challenges faced by the provincial department and had to be wary of the separation of powers.
The Chairperson said that the portfolio committee could not encroach on the executive's role. Yet the committee did not want to see a second Fukushima in the country. The department had to engage with professionals in the province. If the country was looking at nuclear energy without looking at safety, then there was a problem.
The Chairperson said that the department had two weeks within which they had to respond with more details of the work they were doing with the provincial department. Attention had to be paid to economic, social and environmental issues. An oversight visit was necessary. The Portfolio Committees on Minerals, Tourism, Agriculture, Communications, and Energy also had to receive this information. The Portfolio Committee would provide regular feedback to the community.
Mr Maphakela replied that the criteria for upgrading of roads were being addressed with National Treasury. There was a national guideline for roads standards, which determined the standards by which bridges had to be built. The province is under severe budgetary constraints. The Department last spoke with the province in June. They are communicating with mining houses about the maintenance of the roads.
There was a mere traffic count on that particular road. He is not aware of a study on the road to the MEC's village. The immediate issues of road markings and traffic signs would be addressed with the provincial department.
Mr Sipho Dibakwane, Director: Office of the Director-General, Department of Transport, said that there was a commitment to move the transfer freight from road to rail.
Mr Joone said that it was not surprising that only 67 vehicles were counted. This is not surprising since there is no road. There are cars in the community but they cannot afford to fix and maintain the cars. School children have to be transported on these roads. What about their safety? The community has communicated with politicians over the past 12 years. They never received responses but now they have regular contact with the MEC.
He said that all the mines in Namaqualand have been closed. Agriculture was under strain. People are moving to cities and the cities are already overpopulated.
The Chairperson thanked the community for having raised these matters. The Portfolio Committee intended to visit the area.
The minutes of the meeting of 12 April and 16 August 2016 were adopted.
Ms D Carter (COPE) indicated that she had not attended two meetings due to a decision by her party, at the time, not to participate in portfolio committee meetings. Her other absences from meetings were as a result of sick leave.
The meeting was adjourned.
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