Arrive Alive

Gugulethu Tragedy: Minister Madikizela releases technical investigation findings and recommendations

I would firstly like to repeat the condolences which I have expressed on a number of occasions on the death of the four children two weeks ago. This was a heartbreaking tragedy and my thoughts are with their parents and loved ones.

While no investigation can bring them back to life or truly comfort their families, friends and communities, it is critical that we learn as much as we can from this tragic incident and constantly review our processes as a government.

That is why I immediately instructed the Department of Transport and Public Works to investigate what happened, as well as to provide recommendations to guide our government going forward. 

The Department has now completed its work, and I am able to report back on its findings and recommendations. 

Theft of filling by criminals led to tragic accident

On Monday, 8 February 2021, four young boys went to play on the embankment of the bridge crossing Borcherd’s Quarry Road on the Cape Town bound carriageway of the N2. 

They were unaware that the area they were playing in had been undermined over the prior weekend by criminals stealing fill material from the embankment.  The tragic outcome was the sand collapsed and the children were buried beneath it.

I am extremely angry by what this investigation has uncovered. Criminals with no thought other than their own gain and no consideration for the safety of others put the lives of these children at risk. The result is this tragedy.

Department inspected site on the Friday before incident – filling stolen over the weekend

It is worth highlighting that the routine road maintenance standard operating procedures requires that provincial roads are inspected regularly. In the case of the N1, N2, N7 and M5 that frequency is at least five times per week.

In addition to inspections provided by the various work teams, further inspection is provided on a regular basis by the supervisors or consultants managing the teams or contracts.  The frequency of such inspections in terms of contracts is at least once per week for high order roads, reducing to once per month for lower order roads.  

Other fault/incident reporting structures available include the Traffic Management Centre (TMC) hotline (within the City of Cape Town) and the Department’s hotline/website (for the entire Western Cape) both of which allow members of the public to report incidents.  The Freeway Management System, a joint initiative between the Western Cape Government, City of Cape Town and SANRAL aimed at managing traffic on selected major routes in and around the City, also identifies and reports incidents through the CCTV system.

Further contract operating procedures stipulate the maximum response times and methods for certain types of reported problems.        

In line with this policy, our records show that the site where this tragedy unfolded was inspected on the Friday before the Monday when the incident occurred, and no problems were identified.

As a result, it is clear that the theft of the filling must have taken place after the inspection took place, and over the weekend. 

Teams have attended to 119 instructions to repair/rectify damages arising from vandalism

It is also important to note the major challenges that the department and its contractors are facing in responding to ongoing theft and vandalism. While this did not impact the inspection on that Friday, it is relevant to understand the major challenge being faced along these arterials.

While in this instance the damage involved filling material, the extent of the on-going theft and vandalism takes many forms including the erection of illegal structures, the opening of unlawful and dangerous access to the road reserve, illegal electrical connections and destruction of signage. All of these activities represent a clear danger to our residents.

The scale of the problem is best illustrated by considering that in the twelve-month period from the end of January 2020 (Jan 2020 – Jan 2021), the routine road maintenance teams have attended to 119 instructions to repair/rectify damages arising out of theft or vandalism on the N1, N2 and M5 – with 67 of those on the N2 alone (35 in the vicinity of Borcherd’s Quarry). 

Added to that, since July 2020, the routine streetlight maintenance contractor for the roads including Borcherd’s Quarry interchange have attended to 12 incidents involving theft of electrical cables and 8 relating to filling/materials  A summary of the remedial/repair interventions that have taken place at Borcherd’s Quarry, the N2 and N1/M5 over the past 12 months is contained in the attached summary report.

R36 million spent on repairs in last three years; repair teams attacked often

Although finance is not the only consideration which has to be taken into account in matters relating to public safety, it should be noted that the annual budget for the three contracts covered by the investigation which I ordered is R63 million. The amount spent on repairs over the last three years is R36 million.

Furthermore, the investigation also found that there have been no fewer than 30 incidents involving assault, attempted robbery or robbery of the various routine road maintenance teams of the contractor responsible for these sections of the road.

These records are only the reported instances for the road maintenance teams – it excludes the numerous other accounts of intimidation and threats which are levelled against these teams on an almost daily basis.  

The streetlighting teams have been operating with support of armed security personnel for a number of years now because of the threat posed to these teams during their operations.

DTPW Roads Branch provided the necessary level of inspection and response required

The Road Ordinance (19 of 1976) empowers the Department to make good any defects to the road and remove any illegal structures.  It is a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison, for any person to damage or steal any road infrastructure, intimidate or threaten any official or contractor going about their lawful business or erect any wall, structure or barricade within a road reserve. 

However, it does not empower the Roads Branch of my department or its contractors to effect the arrest and removal of any transgressors. Put simply – even if we see an offence taking place, we cannot either intervene to stop the offence or take direct action against the perpetrators.  For this, the Branch needs the assistance of law enforcement services (Traffic Officers, SAPS Officers and Local Authority Police Officers).

It is clear that the DTPW Roads Branch has met and can prove the necessary level of inspection and response including suitable measures to remedy any incidents within our road reserves within a reasonable time, despite these major challenges.

SAPS need to prevent this vandalism and destruction from taking place

The people responsible for the construction and then the maintenance of our public road system are not law enforcement officers. As it is, they too often perform their responsibilities under threat and in real danger of violence and injury. 

There needs to be improved law enforcement if this is going to change. I will therefore interact with all law enforcement agencies and departments to explore ways in which they can play a greater and more effective role in protecting our public infrastructure as well as enabling the people who maintain this infrastructure to do so in safety. 

In line with the recommendations contained in the summary report, we will also approach Community Policing Forums, Neighborhood Watches and even private security to request extra vigilance and ensure criminal activity along the road reserves are reported as soon as possible.

Reducing heights of stockpiles and storage areas:

It has been observed that theft of material is largely performed by means of reversing Light Delivery Vehicles (LDV’s) and small trucks up to the face of the stockpile and “pulling” the material into the vehicle. 

That is why the department is also considering reducing the height of such stockpiles to less than 1 m in height the perpetrators will have to expend more energy in stealing the material and ensure that the cut face, when they are finished, does not pose a hazard.

Department will beef up permanent and temporary surveillance 

In line with the recommendations, the Chief Directorate: Departmental Operations will also undertake to develop a uniform and standard reporting procedure for future use. 

This will leave the Department in a better position to be able to plot and evaluate incidents and determine whether additional or enhanced interventions are required in the future. 

It will also increase surveillance by introducing additional fixed surveillance cameras, linked to the TMC/FMS system be installed at key hotspots to allow for constant supervision and monitoring of these areas.  

Finally, the use drone technology be investigated to ascertain whether it is viable to supplement the regular patrols by monitoring areas considered unsafe for foot patrols or otherwise obstructed from view or inaccessible. 

We need to work closely with community to ensure immediate reporting of criminal activity

Lastly, I also call on communities to play a greater role in protecting our public infrastructure – infrastructure built using public money for the benefit of the community. 

We all need to play a role to ensure that those who put our children’s lives at risk face the full force of the law. They can do so by reporting this sort of criminal activity, by calling 021 480 7700 from a cellphone and 107 from a landline.

We all need to join hands to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself again. 
 

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