The Boatle-Mmankgodi road is to be controversially and mysteriously upgraded at a reported cost of P54 million. The other mystery is that despite the fact that the project has been awarded to a company called JWR Civils, “volunteers” from the Department of Roads carried out maintenance work on the road recently as part of this year’s Community Public Service Day.
Sources at the Ministry of Transport and Communication say that the only remarkable thing about this road is that President Ian Khama periodically uses it as a cycling route. They question the manner in which this project is being undertaken, noting gross deviation from the norm on several counts. Firstly, they say that there is no justification for the expensive asphalt overlaying that will be done on the road because of its traffic volume.
“Asphalt overlaying is used for heavy-traffic roads like Gaborone-Boatle, Gaborone-Rasesa and Francistown Serule and as far as I know, there is no road off the A1 highway that is of such quality. As a rule, asphalt overlaying is used for primary roads like the A1 and not for secondary ones like Boatle-Mmankgodi. The Boatle-Ramotswa road was done with cheap seal which is of comparatively low quality but this road has heavier traffic than the Boatle-Mmankgodi one. The Boatle-Ramotswa road is also more important because it connects Botswana to South Africa and is used by people who come from all over the country to get specialist medical treatment at the Ramotswa hospital,” says a source.
Construction of the 26.8-kilometre Boatle-Mmankgodi road is scheduled to start in July next year and will take 12 months. The project is divided into three sections. The first section entails overlaying of the carriageway from Boatle junction to Mmankgodi, including bus bays and junctions. The second is shoulder construction (of 1.5 metres each) and overlaying of the entire road width including bus bays and junctions from the cattle grid to the Mmankgodi Bridge. The third comprises overlaying from Mmankgodi Bridge to the turn-off from Gaborone-Kanye road. The scope of the project also includes the removal of vegetation on the pavement prior to reseal, installation of new kerb stones “as may be instructed to protect the road where vehicles are off-ramping” and road marking using SABS 731 paint with addition of glass bids and provision of road signs.
“Bad sections of the road will be ripped and reconstructed and when complete, the road will be as smooth as the Gaborone-Boatle one. That was not done with the Boatle-Ramotswa road,” the source says.
The second thing that ministry sources find baffling is that this road is being upgraded when similar projects were shelved with explanation from the government that there was no money. The source says that the status of all other projects remains the same while the Boatle-Mmankgodi road is being given priority.
“We are still asking ourselves questions about the criteria that was used to give this project priority when the financial circumstances that led to its deferment in the first place have not changed. All other projects remain deferred but this one is going ahead. Why? I don’t even think that this project has been catered for in the 2014/2015 budget,” states the source.
Apparently, this road has been getting special attention all along. It is alleged that its routine maintenance is done on a more regular basis and there have been cases when a gang of workmen from the Department of Roads have camped along the road to patch up potholes. It is further alleged that in one instance, a senior official at the ministry headquarters who is responsible for projects, called a supervisor at night to give instructions that potholes on the road be fixed with immediate effect.
Questions are also being asked about why staff from the Department of Roads was deployed along this road to carry out maintenance work for this year’s Community Public Service Day. This followed an “invitation” from the Acting Director of Roads, Pius Mphathiwa, who, in his letter dated May 26, 2014, wrote that his department had “identified Boatle-Mmankgodi road as the project of that day.” The letter spells out road maintenance activities to be carried out along the road as shrub and grass-cutting, pothole patching, installation of road signs, litter-picking as well as cattle-chasing “and related duties.”
People who live in this area call the Boatle-Mmankgodi road, “Khama’s road” because the president, who is a fitness fanatic, occasionally cycles along it in the company of his bodyguards. Speculation is rife that this may have something (or everything) to do with the special attention that the road gets from the ministry. On the other hand, a June 5, 2014 letter from Lorato Ditiro, the head of station in the Gaborone South region that details the scope of the project, says that the upcoming construction “will have an impact on the public.”
Minister of Transport and Communications Nonofo Molefhi confirmed that the Boatle-Mankgodi road will be upgraded. Molefhi said that the reason that road is being upgraded is due to the fact that it has developed some cracks. “After we realised that the road is developing some cracks we engaged the University of Botswana, engineering department to conduct some tests on the road. They discovered that there is some earth movements which stretches along that road,” said the Minister of Transport and communications. He revealed that they decided to overlay asphalt on it so as to avoid further cracks especially during the rainy seasons.