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Assessing the condition of unpaved rural road networks and the associated impacts on the livelihoods of rural communities : a case study of four rural communities in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

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Unpaved road networks, also referred to as gravel or unsealed roads, form an integral function in terms of sustaining the well-being of rural livelihoods, particularly in remote rural areas. The socioeconomic spinoffs of improved rural road networks have been extensively researched in Asia, but not to the same extent in the African continent. Even though the South African economy has consistently been stronger than many countries in Africa, there is more research conducted in Kenya and Ghana on unpaved road network conditions when compared to South Africa. The present study therefore assesses the condition of rural road networks and the associated socioeconomic impacts on the livelihoods of rural areas within the province of KwaZulu-Natal. This study was conducted in four rural areas namely Emazabekweni, Dukuza, Mkhunya and Mhlwazini within the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Due to the complex nature of the research, a multidisciplinary approach was adopted in order to address the aim and objectives of this study. In addition, This study used both quantitative and qualitative methods in the data collection and analysis. The first part of this study was an assessment of the physical conditions of the gravel road networks in rural communities in order to understand the physical, environmental and anthropogenic factors that influence the state of rural roads. Results showed that there was a direct relationship between road surface characteristics, drainage and maintenance conditions. The results further showed that the nature of road surface distresses was an indication of the influence of traffic and climatic conditions. The second part of this study focused on investigating some of the primary causes of poor road conditions on unpaved road networks. An assessment of surface material quality was performed on the road classes selected for this study in order to understand their susceptibility to surface deterioration. The results obtained indicated that there was a need for better material selection during the construction of unpaved road networks. Most of the road classes assessed had poor material quality, thus making them vulnerable to increased surface deterioration and maintenance costs. The third part of this study assessed local respondents' perceptions on the socioeconomic role of their unpaved road networks on their livelihoods. The findings obtained perceived that local respondent’s perceptions on the socioeconomic role of unpaved road networks on their livelihoods are influenced by the effectiveness of their roads in servicing their needs. Less than ten percent of all the respondents perceived direct economic spinoffs as a result of road networks improvements. Majority of the respondents perceived social spinoffs such as improving access to healthcare, education and market services. Finally, this study identified and assessed the effectiveness of Community Based Maintenance Strategies that were utilised for routine maintenance of unpaved rural roads. The findings emphasised that Community Based Road Management Strategies such as the Zibambele Road Maintenance programme provides an alternative approach that was useful and can be effective on the maintenance of unpaved rural road networks. The major criticism for Community Based Road Management Strategies was that they lack sufficient prioritisation of personnel training and this justification was observed during the assessment of the Zibambele maintenance programme on the selected road lengths. The overall findings of this study showed that community proximity to towns biasedly determined amongst others, quality of unpaved roads, access to services and the availability of opportunities for income diversification. In this study, the communities that are located close to a town had better quality road access in comparison to communities that are further away from a town. Similarly, these communities had better services and access to services in comparison to communities that are further away from the town. The findings of this study could be used to reassess some of the primary challenges affecting rural economic growth as well as social stability.


Doctor of Philosophy in Geography. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2018.


Theses - Geography., Rural roads - Economic aspects - South Africa., Rural conditions - South Africa.