Centrally situated within the Republic of South Africa, Lesotho is heavily reliant on its road network to connect it with regional and international markets. The capital, Maseru, is a four-hour drive – or one-hour flight – from the economic hub of Johannesburg, and 600 kilometres from the bustling port of Durban on South Africa’s east coast, which processes most of Lesotho’s goods destined for export.
Standards and guidelines are set by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to ensure operational efficiency in national transport systems as well as in the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure. The ministry is also responsible for meeting Lesotho’s obligations regarding regional and international transport conventions and maintaining global standards. In line with current donor programmes, such as the Millennium Challenge Account and the World Bank’s Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification project, the focus is on creating a Minimum Infrastructure Platform (MIP) for private sector investment and development.
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport unveiled its ten-year strategic plan in July 2010. The document highlights the goal of an efficient, effective, safe and well-developed transport network that promotes investment and reduces poverty. In the spotlight is the building of roads and other infrastructure that are accessible to all, including those who are physically challenged, and of a standard that can compare favourably with international benchmarks. The implementation of the plan is expected to begin as soon as the document has been finalised.
In the 2010/11 budget, M191 million (5 percent of the capital budget) was set aside for the construction and maintenance of urban and rural roads under the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship. Rural bridges received M98 million (3 percent of the capital budget), and urban and main roads M537 million (15 percent of the capital budget).
Strengthening networks for growth
The improved transport networks that were developed as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) made a huge impact on both social and economic development in Lesotho. With the approval of Phase 2 of the LHWP, infrastructural development is expected to accelerate once more. Lesotho’s government continues to invest in developing better-quality transport networks in the knowledge that this has important economic and social spin-offs:
- Developing road infrastructure, in the form of major transport routes as well as access and feeder roads to industrial estates, helps to link economic sectors such as manufacturing to South Africa’s transport network, thereby strengthening investment.
- The construction of rural roads is vital for connecting outlying communities to social services and economic opportunities in that it helps provide SMMEs with access to markets, both locally and in neighbouring South Africa, and is likely to impact positively on income levels as well as reducing poverty in the country.
- Improving and upgrading roads throughout the country, particularly in prime tourist destinations in the mountains, will boost the tourism sector immensely.
- Road construction, maintenance and upgrading creates employment, which also has a positive impact on income levels.
Transport networks across Africa are being strengthened with the backing of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) in addition to other regional groupings. The development of a continent-wide infrastructure master plan is on the table, as is addressing the specific challenges of landlocked countries, which are articulated in the Almaty Declaration on Landlocked Countries. The SADC Regional Infrastructure Master Plan aims to accelerate the Regional Trunk Road Network (RTRN) initiative to boost road network integration and improve regional links.
Programmes in the past few years have covered the harmonisation of road user charges, vehicle overload control, vehicle equipment and dimensions as well as third party motor vehicle insurance. Other important topics include multilateral agreements on cross border road transport, liberalisation of air transport markets, aviation security and the introduction of machine readable travel documents within the region.
Held from 28-29 October 2010, the COMESAEAC- SADC Tripartite and IGAD Infrastructure Conference focused on the development of transit corridors, with the overall objective of:
- Reducing transportation costs and enhancing regional competitiveness, with inland transportation presently up to five times more costly than transport by sea
- Elimination of Non Tariff Barriers
- Enhancing infrastructure use and efficiency
- Implementing harmonised customs procedures and documentation as well as One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) to minimise border detentions
Road infrastructure in Lesotho has improved hugely since independence, when horseback was the primary mode of transport over a network of gravel roads and bridle paths between villages. From just one paved road in 1966, some 58 percent of Lesotho’s roads are now paved.
Presently, the total length of road network stands at 2 371 kilometres, comprising 1 367 kilometres of paved roads and 1004 kilometres of unpaved roads, linking urban communities with remote rural areas, as well as connecting to the South African road network. A total of 14 border posts along the Lesotho-South African border regulate the entry and exit of visitors and freight to and from the country. Border posts at Caledonspoort, Ficksburg and Maseru are open 24 hours a day.
Lesotho’s mountainous environment, which boasts some of the most rugged terrain on the continent, continues to challenge the expansion of road infrastructure, as well as the maintenance of the existing network. For this reason, most of the road network is in the lowlands – just 25 percent of the country’s total area – and while arterial roads connect all districts in Lesotho, there are relatively few rural roads connecting villages and towns within mountain districts, which make up the remaining 75 percent of Lesotho’s land area and are home to about one quarter of its population.
Historically, the road network has been managed by four different institutions: the Roads Branch and Department of Rural Roads (DRR) under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport; Maseru City Council (MCC) and Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship (MoLGC). The Roads Branch is responsible for major trunk roads and bridges, formulating and implementing policy relating to roads infrastructure. The DRR is charged with constructing, upgrading and maintaining secondary and tertiary gravel roads, its primary objective being the provision of a functional rural road network to improve the accessibility of services and markets to rural communities.
The Roads Directorate Act of 2010 has seen the establishment of the Roads Directorate as a semiautonomous entity under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. The Directorate acts as an umbrella body to oversee the roles of the DRR and the Roads Branch, helping to assimilate all funding and administration into a more direct and accountable framework.
The main functions of the Roads Directorate include:
- Implementation of government policy on roads-related issues
- Planning, designing and implementation of roads programmes for all roads
- Preparation of strategic road network development plans
- Promotion and support of the development of the road construction industry in Lesotho
The establishment of the Directorate is in line with the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology, with Lesotho aiming to resolve the problems in its roads subsector resulting from the large number of organisations involved in road maintenance, funding and budgeting. Restructuring the roads subsector into a directorate rather than a department gives it the requisite profile and legal backup to carry out its mandate in the most efficient manner.
Road construction has been highlighted by Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Mr Pakalitha Mosisili, as the development activity that takes precedence over all others as, without it, other developments cannot be carried out.
Roads infrastructure development
The Lesotho government has in recent years prioritised the construction and development of roads as a catalyst for economic growth and development, with the road network regarded as a springboard for expansion in manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.
The main trunk route north, the Main North One (A1), provides access to most of the north. The A1 from Maseru to Botha-Bothe and on to Mokhotlong is tarred, as is the Katse Road, which has opened up much of the northern highlands. The Main North One also connects to improved roads at Caledonspoort and Ficksburg on the South African side of the border.
Tarred roads link Maseru to other district headquarters in Lesotho’s lowlands, as well as connecting the capital to Mohale Dam via the A3 along the Maseru to Thaba-Tseka route. The main trunk route to the south, the Main South One (A2), comprises a good tarred road from Maseru to Moyeni (Quthing), Mount Moorosi and on to Mphaki.
A financing agreement between the European Commission (EC) and the Lesotho government has seen the EC provide about M212 million for the upgrading of 110 kilometres of the paved road network. The selected portions include a 65-kilometre stretch of the Main South One from Ha Matala to the Mafeteng roundabout, and 15 kilometres of Main North One from Lakeside Traffic Lights to Maqhaka. Others are a sevenkilometre road from Hleoheng to Seretse Khama Junction, six kilometres from Peka Town to Peka Bridge and 18 kilometres from Ha Moruthane to Morija via Matsieng. The project began in 2008 and will take three years to complete.
Maintenance work, construction and upgrading of roads in Teyateyaneng was begun in September 2010 and will encompass, among others, installation of street lights, construction of parking and pedestrian paths, and furrows to channel water. The feasibility study and design of the trunk road from Thaba-Tseka to Sani Pass has begun, and reconstruction of the road between Oxbow and Mokhotlong is taking place. Realignment, expansion and rehabilitation of roads is also underway from Lejone to Lekhalong la Tlaeeng near Katse Dam, Roma to Semonkong, Qacha’s Nek to Sehlabathebe, Katse to Thaba-Tseka and roads between Ha Kome and Ha Baroana.
A project to tar the road from Mokhotlong in Lesotho via the 2 874-metre-high Sani Pass to Underberg in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, thus establishing a direct link to the port city of Durban, will benefit both countries by reducing travelling time and increasing bilateral and transit trade and tourism opportunities, particularly in the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Park. On the Lesotho side, the aim is to cover the entire ‘Roof of Africa’ road from Botha- Bothe through Oxbow past the Letšeng Diamond Mine and the Mokhotlong turnoff at Thabang to Sani Pass.
The construction of bridges over the Senqu and Senqunyane rivers serves to link people living in the mountains with those in the lowlands. The Senqu River has a high flow velocity as well as high water levels that have in the past washed away standard footbridges during rainy seasons. Funded by the Lesotho government, the World Bank and the European Union, the new Senqu River Bridge will link the villages of Seforong in Quthing district and Hloahloeng in Mohale’s Hoek, while the bridge at Senqunyane River will connect Hloahloeng and Topa.
Construction began during 2009 on yet another bridge across the Senqu River – the Mohlapiso Bridge at Qacha’s Nek – at an estimated cost of M173 million. The Mohlapiso project is expected to take until April 2011 to complete, and will also include five kilometres of road. This brings the number of bridges across the Senqu River to four, with bridges having already been built at Quthing and Mokhotlong.
A sum of over M7.9 million was allocated at the beginning of 2010 to construct a footbridge linking the villages of Auplaas and Ha Mofutho in the Qacha’s Nek district. When completed, the footbridge will facilitate easy access to educational and health care facilities for more than 19 660 people living in the Lebakeng and Tsoelike constituencies.
Helping to make Lesotho’s rural areas more accessible, a network of rural gravel roads at Thaka-Makula in Qacha’s Nek was handed over by the Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship in September 2010. The roads connect several villages – such as Makhoaeleng, Matlotlo, Matebeleng, Ha Masupha and Ha Potso, among others – all situated within the Patlong Community Council.
In 2010, the Lesotho government received a M40 million cheque from the South African government, through the African Renaissance Fund, to be put towards the upgrading of the 47.4-kilometre road from Sani Top to Mokhotlong. The total cost of the project will be in the region of M342 million.
Road traffic and safety
Lesotho has a high incidence of road accidents due to factors such as lack of public awareness of road safety, insufficient enforcement of traffic laws, lack of emergency and rescue services, engineering deficiencies in some roads, and poor driver training resulting in speeding and dangerous driving. The Department of Road Safety runs safety awareness campaigns throughout the year to educate all road users on the value of safety and the importance of obeying road traffic laws. The ‘Back to School’ campaign teaches children the basic concepts of road safety. Other activities include road safety inspections and programmes which are broadcast on Radio Lesotho.
Ongoing programmes under the Integrated Transport Project include:
- Vehicle roadworthiness inspection procedures
- Creation of a road accident database
- Procurement of safety equipment
- Establishment of a National Road Safety Council
- Introduction of Road Safety in the school curriculum
- Dangerous spot rectification
The Department of Road Safety has, with the assistance of a Swedish consultancy team, produced Lesotho’s first drivers’ training manual. In view of Lesotho’s rugged terrain and winding mountain roads, the new manual emphasises specialised instruction in defensive driving as a means of bringing down the number of fatal road accidents and enhancing road safety for both vehicle users and pedestrians.
The launch of the new training method and manual in April 2010 coincided with graduation of 101 instructors and examiners who had undergone a week-long training course on the new system. In addition to learning driving skills and road traffic laws, drivers trained according to the new manual are also expected to take courses in first aid and fire fighting.
The Department of Transport and Traffic is responsible for the efficient operation of road transport, ensuring the availability of public transport and monitoring the participation of the private sector. The Lesotho Road Fund operates on a fee-for-service basis to enable road users to contribute towards road maintenance and construction. The fund’s largest source of revenue has historically been the road maintenance levy, which is included in the price of fuel, followed by road tollgate fees. Other sources of revenue include licence fees on motor vehicles.
According to the Lesotho Study into Basic Access and Mobility Standards and Needs (2009), there are 40 000 motor vehicles in Lesotho, of which 10 000 provide transport services. Sixteen-seat minibus ‘taxis’ provide most public transport in rural areas and for commuters in peri-urban areas. They operate to and from Maseru and 16 other transport hubs.
Some larger buses operate on inter-urban routes and saloon taxis operate in and around towns. Operating outside the regulatory framework, 4x4 pickups provide essential public transport on difficult routes where minibuses cannot go. Freight is transported by professional road hauliers or is conveyed by trucks operated by the manufacturing companies themselves.
The parastatal Lesotho Freight Bus Service (LFBS) is charged with operating on remote roads that are inadequately serviced and where commercial services do not exist. However, there are at present a great variety of associations of transport operators providing commercial services. Due to road improvements, these commercial operators compete with the LFBS on all its routes, and also supply transport on a number of remote routes not serviced by public transport. When the LFBS received an injection of new buses, allowing it to expand operations and to compete with minibus services on commuter routes around Maseru, this resulted in some tension with existing commercial operators.
The Department of Traffic and Transport operates inland water transport. There are about 40 river crossings in the country where governmentprovided rowing boats provide free ferry services during weekday working hours. Private operators, working longer hours, complement these services.
The regulation and promotion of civil aviation, development of infrastructure and licensing of air transport operators is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Civil Aviation. It participates in the activities of a number of international civil aviation organisations and upholds international conventions on aviation, all with the objective of achieving safety, efficiency and regularity of service and creating an environment conducive to the development of regional and international trade and tourism.
Lesotho has one international airport, Moshoeshoe I, which is situated some 20 kilometres outside of Maseru in Mazenod. With a paved runway measuring 3 200 metres in length, it is suitable for medium-range jet aircraft such as the Boeing 727. Facilities include two passenger terminals, one cargo terminal and four runways. The terminal building has amenities such as a bank and bureau de change, bars and restaurants, left luggage facilities, gift shop, newsagent, travel agent and a post office. There are also facilities for the disabled.
There are two to three direct flights per day between Lesotho’s Moshoeshoe I International Airport and Johannesburg’s International Airport (OR Tambo) on South African Airways (SAA). Flying time to Johannesburg is approximately one hour and ten minutes, and from there connecting flights are available to a range of international destinations. The number of scheduled international flights to and from Lesotho has risen over a period of seven years from 1 326 in 2001 to 2 377 in 2008.
Domestic air transport is served by a network of 24 airstrips, maintained by the DRR, which provide secondary and, in some cases, primary access to a number of the country’s isolated rural areas which lie outside the coverage of the national road system. The airstrips at Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong have paved runways, while the others have gravel or grass airstrips that are utilised mainly by the Lesotho Flying Doctors Service.
In addition, the Lesotho Defence Force’s Airwing operates three fixed wing aircraft and six helicopters. It provides an important service to government, NGOs and the public – particularly in the remote mountain areas, where it delivers school books, election material and equipment, and takes part in food relief operations and emergency rescue services.
Lesotho does not have its own railway network, but makes use of the South African railway network through the freight operator Transnet. Goods may be transported from the Maseru Rail Terminal Depot on the Maseru branch line, 2.6 kilometres of narrowgauge railway which connects the capital city of Maseru via the border bridge on the Mohokare (Caledon) River to South Africa’s Bloemfontein- Bethlehem line. Two freight trains run every day, carrying mainly cement, maize, fuel and freight containers and making up about one third of Lesotho’s international trade in bulk goods.
Maseru Container Terminal (Mascon) is a largescale freight hub that is connected to the Lesotho network of main roads via Moshoeshoe Road in the Industrial area of Maseru. Providing a customs clearing facility for goods, the terminal has significantly improved the cost efficiency of imports and exports. Operations at Mascon, which were previously run by Transnet, have been taken over by a new operator, Corridor Infrastructure Development (InfraDEV) Property Limited.
All river crossings, which are presently serviced by lightweight aluminium rowing boat river ferries, will eventually be converted to bridges.