R84.1m: a 3km dirt road for 20 homes
Mpumalanga’s struggling Mkhondo municipality is going ahead with plans to “upgrade” a 3km gravel road for R84.1 million – and tarring it is not included in the price.
Mkhondo’s municipal manager, Madubula Mabuza, has appointed a company to do the job for the astronomical amount.
An expert in costing infrastructural projects estimates that it should amount to no more than R31 million.
According to two civil engineers City Press approached, a national road costs about R10 million a kilometre, a provincial road about R6 million a kilometre and a municipal road like this one, about R3 million. However, because the job specifications also include storm water drainage culverts and a bridge, the engineers told us that it would cost about R31 million – including tar.
The contract document that City Press saw shows that Mabuza awarded the tender to Bokosi Projects/Future JV on December 18 last year to build “approximately 3km of Sanbank Village Road including [six] cast in situ box culverts, [two] precast portal culverts and [one] single carriageway bridge”.
The Mkhondo municipality will construct its road, which will not be tarred, at R28 million a kilometre.
The sole owner of Bokosi Projects is Stephen Mapondo Sitsha, who is also a musician going by the stage name Steve Mapondo. As a musician, he started Steve Group in 2013, which brings together various musicians from different genres.
According to Bokosi’s website, the company is a “small, fully representative Black Economic Empowerment, civil engineering consultancy”.
City Press was unable to verify details of Sitsha’s joint venture partner, Future – about 500 companies are registered on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission under that name.
Sitsha did not answer his phone on Friday and Saturday, and failed to respond to text messages and an email. His spokesperson, Thabiso Mosema, said he only dealt with Sitsha’s music projects and not his other businesses. “I can only help you to interview Steve as an artist,” he said.
Mkhondo is an impoverished municipality, which currently owes Eskom R19 million.
It has also been beset by administrative problems, resulting in adverse audit findings by the AuditorGeneral every financial year.
Mandla Dube, a cost estimator at Comfort Business Enterprise, which costs infrastructure projects, said: “Are they building this road in the ocean, or is there a huge mountain they have to destroy [located] in the way of the road?”
City Press drove the existing dirt road and came across a small, seasonal stream that crosses it and that will need to be channelled through a culvert under the road.
However, Mabuza declined to explain how the municipality arrived at a decision to construct eight culverts and a bridge on the road.
Dube said: “This is too much. This road should cost R9 million at most – and an additional R12 million for the six box culverts, R4 million for the two portal culverts and R6 million for the single carriageway bridge mentioned there.
“How wide are those rivers they are talking about? A 300m-long culvert costs about R800 000.”
The small road that the municipality wants to upgrade connects from the provincial road R537 and winds through Sandbank – a forestry farm outside Piet Retief that is home to 20 farmworker households – and rejoins the R537 on another side.
This project is not part of the municipality’s Integrated Development Plan and a full council sitting has not approved it, said DA councillor Irene Rossouw.
Her Pan Africanist Congress counterpart, Jacob Phakathi, also expressed shock at the move to build the road.
Mabuza told City Press that questions about this tender smacked of a political agenda: “I know that there are people with political motives who are spreading lies, because they want tenders in the municipality.”
In a written response, Mabuza said the project was “not overcharged, considering the extra seven bridges covered in the scope”.
However, there is only one bridge in the document, and he declined to answer follow-up questions.
Mabuza said the rural households at Sandbank deserved access to service delivery and that is why council decided to build the road.
But he was quick to add that a final decision to build the road had not been taken, despite the fact that the tender had already been awarded.
“The project has not yet started and the final decision to build the road has not been reached. However, it is planned and approved by council,” he said.
Mabuza declined to provide a council resolution and bid committee minutes to prove that the tender was above board, claiming that the information was “classified” and would only be released if a case was opened with the police.
PROJECT LOOT This is the 3km road that Mkhondo municipal manager Madubula Mabuza intends upgrading for R84.1 million. The road runs through Sandbank Farm, outside Piet Retief
RIP-OFF Mkhondo municipality’s contract showing the awarding of the astronomical tender and stipulating the construction upgrade details