Winding all the way from Cape Town, through Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, right through to Ermelo, the 2 255 km long N2 is the longest numbered route in South Africa. Nestled somewhere along the picturesque landscape of the Eastern Cape portion of the route is Qunu, the birthplace of one of South Africa’s most beloved leaders, the late Nelson Mandela.
Two villages can be located not too far from Qunu – Sitebe Komkhulu and Viedgesville. It takes approximately three hours to get to these villages from East London, one of the region’s largest industrial cities. That is if you drove there. For the most part the people living there do not have cars and instead rely on minibuses to get them to the cities where they can earn a living.
There’s a stark contrast between the area’s breath-taking beauty and the extreme poverty of its people. It only emphasises the importance of the approximately 25 km-long road between the two villages. Essential to the socio-economic wellbeing of the people, it gives them access to work, food, schools, family, and more.
These crucial factors informed the South African National Roads Agency’s (SANRAL) decision to rehabilitate this stretch of the road. Originally, Aurecon was appointed to provide professional services related to this. However, after a geometric assessment concluded that the road had to be reconstructed, Aurecon embarked on a more complex design process.
The design of both the temporary and permanent works had to consider the communities’ long term needs. The construction process had to limit the short and long term impact of the project, while also allowing for flexibility so that the communities’ concerns could be addressed. Many of these concerns only became clear during construction.
Heavy rainfall posed a challenge too – as did environmental impacts, which included construction over rivers and watercourses. Thanks to excellent co-operation between SANRAL, the contractor and the consulting team, we overcame these challenges and successfully completed the project. Aurecon received a commendation during the prestigious annual SAICE (South African Institution of Civil Engineering) – SAFCEC (South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors) Awards for the community-based projects category in 2015.
Traditionally, the design of rural roads has favoured the needs of drivers. In this case, we sought to apply ourselves to an evolution of the conventional approach; we wanted the design and construction processes to cater for the needs of the affected communities too.
To achieve a holistic solution, it was imperative that the process included community participation, which meant that we could optimise our design – this included the addition of several pedestrian underpasses and walkways in response to the concerns raised.
It’s fitting that one of these pedestrian passes is situated in Qunu, where large numbers of school children used to cross the road daily en route to school.
Remarking on the road during its official opening in 2014, former transport minister, Dipuo Peters said: “The opening of this road could not have come at any better moment than this, when we celebrate 20 years of democracy – making a tangible difference to improving our people’s daily lives.”