Ndebele’s farm road comes up in pothole civil case

2010-01-21 00:00

THE upkeep of a road leading to the farm of national Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele has again come under the spotlight in a civil case in which Hluphile Elda Zuma (53) is suing the province for her injuries in a crash allegedly caused by a pothole.

Zuma, a former chef at Church of Scotland Hospital in Tugela Ferry, lost her hand and part of her arm when the minibus in which she was a passenger hit a pothole — said to be nine metres long and 2,5 metres wide — on the R33 Keates Drift-Tugela Ferry road in December, 2004.

The court was told by the driver that he had to swerve into the pothole in order to avoid an oncoming vehicle. This caused a ball joint to break, compromising his steering and control of the vehicle, and resulting in the minibus overturning.

Advocate Gerhard Roberts, SC, for Zuma, told Judge Jan Combrink a subpoena was served yesterday on the director of the KZN roads department. It demanded a file relating to the upkeep and repair work done on the road leading to the private farm of the former premier (at Albert Falls).

The file relates to the defence in Zuma’s case, which suggests there had been no funds available to repair the road in question, Roberts said.

He said they want to ascertain if repairs to the road leading to Ndebele’s property were necessary or bud­geted for, and what costs had been incurred by the Transport Department in that regard.

“This might have a bearing on the manner in which the department allocated its funds.”

The subpoena demands that the head of the Transport Department attends court tomorrow to produce the file in question, including all bud­gets, tenders, contracts and payments to contractors, and all expenses incurred in respect of the road between the years 2000 and 2009.

In his testimony earlier yesterday, retired Pretoria University transport professor Alex Visser said documents shown to him do not support the pro­vince’s claim that there were no sufficient funds to repair the pothole in question.

He said a payment certificate issued to private contractors Zamani Sizwe Esisha B Construction company revealed that the firm was awar­ded a R145 000 contract to carry out “black top patching”, or pothole repairs, on the road in question in June 2004. On December 23 that year there was still more than R40 000 “in the kitty” so to speak, contradicting the department’s claim that there was no money.

He also said the contractor appeared to have charged R23 per square metre for pothole repairs, so the pothole in question would have cost a mere R500 to fix.

Advocate Griffiths Madonsela, acting for KZN’s premier and MEC for transport, suggested to Visser in cross examination that, in fact, the pothole had been repaired to some extent prior to the crash with “back fill”, but the damaged area was not resurfaced. He suggested that at the time the contractor did not have the necessary materials available to do a full repair.

Visser said “back fill” is used only in emergencies to temporarily fill up dangerous potholes and would have been washed away “with the first rainfall”.

He testified that the pothole’s repair should have been a priority.

The case will proceed tomorrow.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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