South Africa

R4.9m Phalaborwa bridge late, but done now to ‘appease community’

Humulani bridge 2

A R4.9 million bridge in the village of Humulani near Phalaborwa has set tongues wagging in Limpopo after it was allegedly hastily handed over to the community a year late and “at inflated cost”.

Construction began in 2019, with a completion target of 2023. It was supposed to create jobs for locals, while providing much-needed access for the communities.

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Ba-Phalaborwa municipal manager Lucas Pilusa said the bridge had a budget of R4.9 million.

“Its scope included clearing the site, construction of the bypasses, roadbed preparation, layer works, installation of culvert structures, gabions, provision of erosion of protection works, guardrails, and road signs and finishing off the access approaches.”

“We are pleased with the end product,” Pilusa said – but people in the area are not.

“This project was supposed to be handed over in 2023. Why wait until now, a few weeks before elections,” asked Boysen Mahlangu of Matiko Xikaya village.

Another villager, Steve Ngobeni, said: “ When they began with construction, we all heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that a better life for all, which the ANC promised, is finally here. When they handed it over, we were all baffled at the timing. “

He said the original bridge was so low that during heavy rain it would be flood – ed or washed away entirely.

Adele Mhlongo, who lives on the street where the bridge was built, said she was worried about its quality.

“I have never seen R5 million with my own eyes, let alone R50 000. But R5 mil – lion is a lot of money.

“I think this bridge could have cost the municipality at least R1.5 million. The question is, where is the remaining R3.5 million? I think it is time for the Hawks because these figures don’t add up,” she said.

But local councillor Lucky Rihlampfu said the mayor, Mariam Malatji, should be praised, not criticised.

“This is a bridge that gives the villagers access to cross to and from school and to and from the graveyard.

“During funerals after rainfall, we had to stop the hearse at the river, put the coffin down and get six strong men to carry the coffin because the car could not pass through,” Rihlampfu said.

“And during school days, it was the same. Our children had to sacrifice their lessons and bunk classes. So, this is a beautiful job worth celebrating.”

Community Chat: Is this bridge worth R5m?

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the second-biggest political party in the Limpopo Legislature, accused the mayor and her team of using the bridge as an election gimmick.

“Why wait until now to hand over a bridge, which cost was inflated,” asked Limpopo EFF provincial chair Tshilidzi Maraga.

“The ANC is known for using government resources to woo voters ahead of polls. Where is load shedding now? They are cutting ribbons everywhere, but these are projects government built years ago,” she said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was concerned about the “premature handover of the culvert bridge without conducting a high-risk assessment”.

Bilias Ramothwala, DA councillor on the municipal public accounts committee, said it was clear the reason for the premature handover was to appease the community before the upcoming elections.

“We also believe that the project cost was inflated to assist in showing 100% spending of the municipal infrastruc – ture grant by the municipality for the 2023-24 financial year.”

Pillusa said those criticising the bridge were “pursuing a political agenda”.