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48,000 potholes on Johannesburg’s roads? That’s not nearly the whole story

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  • The Moneyweb business news site reported that there were “approximately 48,000 potholes” in Johannesburg roads, according to the Johannesburg Roads Agency.

  • But the city’s municipal government estimates there are 100,000 potholes, and the roads agency said it planned to fix nearly 141,000 of them – although it missed this target.  

  • It’s difficult to say exactly how many potholes there are in Joburg, but there are certainly many more than 48,000.

Complaining about potholes is a local pastime for Johannesburg residents. Hop onto Twitter, for example, and you’ll find photos of pockmarked roads in Roodepoort, Fordsburg, Bryanston and Soweto.

But how many potholes are there in the South African city? A Moneyweb article from November 2020 put the number at “approximately 48,000”. 

Where is this figure from? And how was it calculated? Africa Check investigated.

Figure from the Johannesburg Roads Agency

Moneyweb was reporting on the announcement of a Service Delivery Defects Catch Up Plan by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA). The agency, owned by the City of Johannesburg municipal government, is responsible for the maintenance, repair and development of Joburg's road network.

A press release explained that under the plan, work interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown would be caught up. 

The JRA said that among its backlog of service delivery requests, roughly 6,000 “relate to fixing of potholes.” It added that, “on average these requests amount to approximately 48,000 potholes”.

Sanele Zondi, head of the JRA’s public relations and stakeholder engagement department, told Africa Check that “even though a member of the public may log a call for a pothole service request, on the ground there might be more than one pothole”. 

The organisation estimates that for each reported pothole there are “about eight to 15 potholes” in total. Applying this ratio to the 6,000 reported potholes means there could be anything from 48,000 to 90,000 potholes in need of repair. 

Municipality estimated 100,000 potholes

Reports from the JRA give some insight into the number of potholes across the city. 

The agency received reports of 4,972 potholes from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. These reports came from a hotline, JRA staff and inspectors, and others. 

The agency set itself the target of repairing 140,732 potholes during this period. But it said it succeeded in repairing only 46,981 potholes

It gave the country’s national Covid-19 lockdown, which started on 27 March 2020, as the reason the target was missed. 

Number of potholes repaired in Johannesburg in 2019/20
July to September 2019 October to December 2019 January to March 2019 April to June 2020
29,167 38,548 19,156 144

Source: Johannesburg Roads Agency

However, this figure does not tally with the figures reported for each quarter. When the quarterly figures are added, they total 87,015 potholes. The agency said its integrated annual report was currently being audited and would include an accurate figure.

Despite the discrepancy, the agency’s targets make it clear that there are more than 48,000 potholes across Johannesburg. The municipality’s 2019/20 integrated development plan review estimated that there were 100,000. 

Potholes become failed roads

It’s difficult to say how many potholes there are in Johannesburg, according to Tyrell Meyers, chair of the Section 79 Transport Committee and Democratic Alliance shadow councillor for Ward 124 of the city.  

As one pothole is repaired another may be created and, as wear and tear on a road increases, the pothole count could actually decrease. Meyers said that as a road deteriorates it eventually requires more than just the filling of a few potholes.

“The more potholes on a road closer to each other is an indication the road is beginning to fail and if not treated could need patching or an entire reinstatement.”

Conclusion: Many more than 48,000 potholes in Johannesburg

Business news site Moneyweb reported that there were “approximately 48,000 potholes” in roads across the South African city of Johannesburg. This was based on a press release from the Johannesburg Roads Agency.

But the City of Johannesburg municipal government puts the number at 100,000. The agency reported that it planned to fix nearly 141,000 potholes from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. They missed this target, but by how much is unclear due to calculation errors in their reports.  

Pinning down exactly how many potholes there are in Johannesburg is difficult. But based on the available data there appear to be many more than 48,000. We rate the claim as understated. 

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