The road to damnation

The road to damnation

…villagers sceptical as officials gush about plans to build ‘proper road’

MASERU – Taxi owner Lefuma Ralitapole is a busy man. But he is not making any money. Running a taxi business in Koalabata is more of a hobby than business, never mind the many hours one puts into the effort – at least according to Ralitapole.

Ralitapole’s blue VW Kombi has been wheeling passengers from Koalabata to Maseru and back on a near daily basis for the past 20 years.
The business looks lucrative from a distance, especially because taxis plying the route are few compared to other parts of the Maseru city.
Even when the volume of passengers increases, business is always rock bottom for taxi operators in Koalabata.
And it is all down to one major issue – a treacherous road.

“This gravel road is very bad gravel and it destroys ball joints easily,” says Ralitapole. “We cannot afford to buy new taxis.”
Maybe this explains why taxi operators in the city decide to congest the roads in areas with no real need of their services when Koalabata is desperate for taxis.

The road is so bad that Ralitapole says that taxi operators spend their earnings on vehicle repairs.
Ralitapole generates at least M200 a day during month-ends with the revenue dropping to M150 during the month.
He says when he subtracts fuel and food expenses, the profit is drastically reduced to a pittance.

Many commuters have nick-named Ralitapole’s taxi tšepe-lia-oa, a pejorative word meaning parts are falling off.
“We are not in business, we just offer a service to the people,” Ralitapole says.

The road, five kilometres gravel from Koalabata to Ha-Tšosane where it joins the tarred Lancers Road, is only fit for trucks or 4×4 off roaders.
Heavy rains worsen the situation as sharp quarry stones protruding from the ground become a major reason for frequent tyre punctures.
Villagers, just like the taxi operators, are fed up with the bad state of the road.

At times they take shovels and picks trying to repair the road with no success.
What irks the villagers is that the road has a higher volume of traffic than some tarred roads in the city.
Taxi operators went on strike twice last year demanding that government takes action.

Often, the road receives a mention although that is mostly during election time.
During the 2012 election campaign, the government dispatched construction equipment for the first time in 15 years. Today, the equipment is grounded and the road remains as treacherous as before.

The government says it is serious this time around. A “proper road” will be constructed this year, says Minister of Development Planning Tlohelang Aumane. But the villagers may have to wait a little longer before they see construction equipment rolling into the area.
This is because authorities are still on the paperwork.

“Council is deep in paper work preparing the contracts and other modalities are done,” said Maseru City Council (MCC) spokeswoman ’Makatleho Mosala. She said council will be responsible for constructing the road.
For villagers who have waited years and have suffered broken promises, talk of paperwork leaves them sceptical.
“I am not fully convinced that the road will be constructed. I will only believe when I see it happening,” he says.

He says he is “wondering if the promise will be fulfilled because it has been a while since it was said the Tšosane-Koalabata road is in the budget”
Minister Aumane is a resident of Koalabata.

And the minister is so hopeful that he has started telling fellow Koalabata residents to look forward to a new bright future when “services like public transport, supermarkets, and roadside mechanics will be established now that there will be a proper road”.

“This development is a great opportunity for Koalabata residents, especially now that the village is growing rapidly,” he says.
“In instances where people need to rush to hospital and work they wait way too long before taxis arrive or rather have to walk to the nearby village of Naledi to catch a taxi,” he says.

As for criminals that have infested Koalabata, a road with streetlights will come as bad news, if one chooses to listen to Thabo Lekoro, spokesman for Koalabata-Sekamaneng Crime Prevention Committee.

“We will be able to see thieves from afar,” Lekoro says.
Some are already claiming credit.

Mootli Koatsa, a local taxi operator proudly says they “are the ones who pushed for the road construction for the past three years” and now they are about to reap the fruits.

Others, such as taxi owner Tieho Hashatsi are just hopeful the promise is fulfilled to spare them from the high costs of vehicle maintenance.
Matšotleho Malefane, a villager who has lived in Koalabata for the past 16 years, is looking forward to more pleasant grocery trips.
“The road will help a lot in that we will save time. We will not walk to Naleli to catch taxis anymore,” Malefane says.

Despite being part of the MCC, Koalabata is a rural village lacking many services expected in a city.
But for now, all that the villagers are yearning for is a “proper” road, a development they believe will change the fortunes of their seemingly abandoned village.

Tokase Mphutlane

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