The private and public sectors are collaborating on a new campaign to eradicate potholes from Johannesburg’s roads.  

It is a month since the City of Johannesburg, in collaboration with insurance companies Dialdirect and Discovery, launched Pothole Patrol, an initiative aimed at repairing potholes throughout the city.  

Pothole Patrol was described as a “game-changing” initiative by Johannesburg’s mayor, Geoffrey Makhubo, at the launch on May 3 2021, but there have been no noteworthy updates on its progress.  

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to frequent Joburg drivers about the initiative: Many noted that it could be a great boost to the repair of roads in the city. Frequent driver Patricia Zongologo believes the involvement of Discovery and Dialdirect will ensure the initiative is a success. “[Both companies] have displayed good service in their fields and exhibit magnificent service provision,” she said. 

The initiative will help to fix potholes, as well as provide insurance companies with data on Joburg road conditions and updates on how vehicles are driven. Kobus Bothma, general manager at Jetpatcher, the company tasked with repairing potholes, told Wits Vuvuzela that, depending on size and depth, they can fix about 500 potholes a day. By GPS, Jetpatcher can pinpoint each pothole it has repaired, thus minimising the time taken to locate potholes. “We guarantee [repaired potholes] for at least two years,” Bothma said.  

The campaign is focused on repairing frequently used roads, and aims for now to fix more than 100 potholes a day. “It takes about 10 minutes to patch a pothole and the unit aims to attend to as many as 100 in a daily shift,” Andile Ndabula, Jetpatcher’s project manager, told Sunday Times. 

Makhubo said it will take time for logged potholes to be repaired, but the aim is to improve the city’s road infrastructure by August 31 2021.  

With the public sector involved in such an ambitious project, however, it seems an amount of scepticism cannot be ignored. Zongololo said, “The public sector has displayed it is unable to individually meet obligations as they arise, hence why potholes have been an unsolved problem for years.” Another driver was also sceptical, but said he thinks that with proper planning the project could go well: “There is a big possibility that something good can come from this,” said Phola Bavuma. 

When asked why the initiative was launched as a partnership between Discovery and Dialdirect, Discovery Insure CEO Anton Ossip told Wits Vuvuzela via a representative, “It’s called ‘coopetition’; becoming collaborators for the greater good [of the safety of our roads]. It makes sense when there is a societal issue that needs an all-hands-on-deck approach to solving.” Coopetition, according to Investopedia, is “the act of cooperation between competing companies”. 

Initially launched by Dialdirect in 2010 as Pothole Brigade, the new and improved Pothole Patrol will attend to the backlog of reported potholes in the city’s database. According to a 2012 IOL article, Pothole Brigade ended due to maintenance costs of R1 million a month and convoluted tender processes in the public sector. It did, however, manage to repair about 50 000 potholes.  

Ossip said at the launch that Pothole Patrol is set to reduce the frequency and severity of road accidents across the city, for insured and uninsured drivers. Bidvest Insure’s claims department has reported the average cost of pothole-related tyre damage to be about R2 000 per claim. 

Pothole Patrol has kicked off its campaign by tending to frequently used roads and holes that have already been reported. It also plans to launch a mobile app whereby drivers can report potholes on roads. Anneli Retief, head of Dialdirect, told Wits Vuvuzela the benefits and features of the app will be announced in due course, but for now it is still in development. 

In 2014 the Johannesburg Road Agency attempted a similar approach, spending R15 million on developing the failed Find & Fix app. It allowed the public to report issues such as potholes, defective traffic lights and other road-related issues. 

FEATURED IMAGE: One of Johannesburg’s many potholes. Photo: Kemiso Wessie