By Benny Mojela
Residents of Alicedale are struggling without a petrol station or public transport in the town, a Grocott’s Mail visit to the area has found. There was a petrol station in Alicedale in the past but now it is a 58 kilometre round trip to the nearest petrol station in Paterson for anyone who wants to fill their car. The alternative is to buy five-litre bottles of petrol for R125 from two local shops.
The shop owners “buy the petrol for R100 in Paterson and they add R25 on top”, resident Sinekhaya Kolweno told Grocott’s Mail. Journalists met Kolweno after he got stuck on the 30 kilometre gravel road between Alicedale and the N2 highway leading to Makhanda. The potholed gravel road makes the trip longer and more difficult, and a lot of drivers get stuck due to a shortage of fuel and damage caused to their cars.
In a community like Alicedale, a petrol station would contribute to job creation and would improve the economic situation. Kolweno explained that one of the biggest problems in Alicedale is the lack of employment. “We don’t have jobs. We sometimes get a chance to work in the game reserves for R120 a day”, he said. These opportunities are few and far between and largely dependent on the state of the tourism industry.
There are no clothing shops in the town, no bank, and only two big spaza shops and a Boxer container store. The people of the town have to travel to Makhanda to buy clothes and food items not sold at local stores but there is no public transport out of the town. The high cost of petrol and commuting to nearby towns has a terrible effect on the lives of Alicedale’s residents. “It costs R100 to get to Makhanda,” resident Ludwe Cakana told Grocott’s Mail.
Makhanda lies 53km east of Alicedale. Alicedale is a small settlement which was a railway intersection on the main railway line between Johannesburg and Gqeberha. Alicedale used to have a busy railway station and there was a train from there to Makhanda in the past. The town was named after Alice Slessor, the wife of an engineer who was responsible for the construction of the railways. The railway station used to provide employment for a lot of people in the town, and its collapse resulted in a dark cloud of unemployment and a lack of services for the people of the settlement.
The people of Alicedale are dealing with difficult challenges but their their spirit is not broken. They have a sense of urgency and want to be involved in solving their problems. They don’t want to be represented as mere victims, but as responsible citizens. In contrast to the main road into Alicedale which is not tarred, the roads within the community are well-paved.
Residents express pride in the state of the roads within the townships, saying “It’s not only bad, and we should not only complain. There are good things. I remember five years ago we worked on this paved road and I was hired in that project” resident Gavin Hefke told Grocott’s Mail.
The citizens of Alicedale believe a solution can come from the government. “The government must help us build the main road and also get rid of the potholes on the road to Gqeberha,” resident Curt Bramley said. The second road Bramley is referring to is tarred and it is often used by tourists who visit the game reserves in Alicedale.
The town and people of Alicedale have great potential but they need a lot of support from both the public and private sector.