With branded pothole repairs, private companies leave their mark on Johannesburg’s roads

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Pothole marketing: Through a public-private partnership, two major insurance companies claim to have repaired more than 100,000 potholes in South Africa’s crumbling road network.

South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg, is home to nearly 8 million people and Africa’s most sophisticated road network. But increased rainfall and vehicle traffic, along with years of municipal corruption and underinvestment destroyed its road infrastructure, leaving motorists frustrated and cars damaged.

Now some of South Africa’s wealthiest insurance companies are taking over the roles of municipalities, deploying laborers to fix potholes across Johannesburg – and affixing their company logos to freshly-laid holes. sealed.

Last year, two major South African insurance companies, Discovery and Dialdirect, stepped in to partner with the city of Johannesburg to fix roads through a crowdsourcing app. Just over a year into the partnership, the companies claim to have repaired over 100,000 potholes across the city, leaving their mark on the roads.

“This is a corporate social investment campaign,” Anton Ossip, CEO of Discovery Insure, told Next City. “We are partnering in good faith (to) help motorists in Johannesburg and improve our roads.”

Both companies deployed Pothole Patrol, a smartphone app that allows drivers to report potholes in the city by uploading their GPS location data and photos of the pothole. Once the data has been entered, the two insurers send their teams to repair the potholes. The app, which only works for repairs in the Johannesburg metropolitan area, is the only one authorized by the city’s Johannesburg Road Agency to fix potholes.

“As insurers, potholes cause immense damage to cars and it makes economic sense to fix potholes and reduce those (insurance) claims,” ​​said Anneli Retief, manager of Dialdirect Insurance, in Next City.

With the success of the project, transport officials across the country are now opening the door to new public-private partnerships to help repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure. South Africa’s transport minister, Fikile Mbalula, has announced that his department is working on a proposal to allow more companies to repair potholes on motorways. Discovery has also launched a private fire brigade in the city.

The condition of South Africa’s 750,000 kilometer road network is dire. The country’s Minister of Transport has estimated that it could cost US$100 per square meter to repair each pothole, noting that most of South Africa’s provincial road network is now past the 25 years it was designed for. The roads were also not designed for today’s traffic volume and pattern, he said.

The partnership is only able to repair potholes measuring a maximum of one meter by one metre. Anything larger is classed as reinstatement and directed to the Johannesburg Roads Agency for repair. Road defects caused by underlying water damage are also reported to the city’s Joburg Water agency.

Dialdirect and Discovery say they do not see their own involvement as undermining the mandate of the city and elected officials.

“This initiative would not be possible without the support of the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Roads Agency,” said Retief. “It’s a real partnership and we’re working hand in hand to make our roads safer and better for motorists in Joburg.”

In 2018, American pizza chain Domino’s made headlines with a marketing stunt in which it awarded $5,000 grants to cities and towns to fund minor repairs to potholes and road cracks. “We don’t want to waste a tasty pizza in a pothole, ruin a wonderful meal,” the CEO joked in a announcement. In return, many cities provided publicity by painting the Domino logo on the road. Many elected officials accepted the offer, while critics noted an ominous “dystopianism” in the shot.

An official in Burbank, Calif., where the company has patched five potholes, questioned whether the move portends a future in which Americans depend on businesses for basic infrastructure. “Well, what’s going to be next?” she said Eater. “Starbucks is going to start building sidewalks in cities that can’t afford to build them? »

Ray Mwareya is an international business journalist based in Johannesburg and Canada, and recipient of the 2016 United Nations Correspondents’ Association Media Award. He reports for Fast Company, Newsweek, Al Jazeera TV, China Dialogue, Reuters, China Radio International and a dozen other global media.

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