Agri Eastern Cape won a ground-breaking case against the MEC and Director-General of Roads and Public Works in Grahamstown yesterday.
The regional organisation of farmers, together with nine other applicants, had taken the department to court over the poor state of the roads in the province. The roads are considered to be among the worst in South Africa.
The judge ordered the respondents to ameliorate the conditions of the roads.
Agri Eastern Cape president Douglas Stern was ecstatic about the victory.
“We couldn’t believe what we were hearing,” he said. “I’m over the moon.
“This is an absolute watershed case for the whole country. It’s only a matter of time before other provinces follow suit.”
Stern attributed the win, which was two years in the making, to the efforts of former Agri EC president Ernest Pringle.
“The success of this case must be ascribed to the tremendous amount of hard work put in by Ernest.
“This must never be overlooked. We are deeply indebted to him.”
The Department of Roads and Public Works were ordered to submit a written report to the registrar of the High Court within 30 days.
In the report, they must outline the steps they will take to repair and maintain the roads, and a timeline for the work. They were also ordered to clarify who will attend to the repairs.
In addition, the department must specify what urgent steps should be taken by individual farmers if the state of their access roads falls into such a state of disrepair that they cannot be used safely.
Stern said that the last point was particularly pertinent because Eastern Cape farmers had suffered huge losses due to their roads being inaccessible.
“Transporters were refusing to drive on them and farmers were asking us what we could do about it.”
Once the department have submitted their report, Agri Eastern Cape will have 30 days to scrutinise it. The case then goes back to court on August 18.
“We will make sure it conforms to our demands,” said Stern.
“What makes everything sweeter is that they didn’t resist the order. They are aware that if they don’t perform, they could face serious consequences.”