Skhumbuzo Macozoma, who will soon become only the second person to lead the 18-year-old SA National Roads Agency (Sanral), says he has a strategy to reaffirm the role and importance of the agency in the minds of the public. This includes reframing the controversial user-pays principle and leveraging Sanral’s technical expertise to work with and win over both the public and its representatives in local government.
Macozoma, who replaces Nazir Alli in December, has big shoes to fill. A civil engineer by training, Macozoma says he knows Sanral well. He is the current CEO of Electronic Toll Collection, which collects e-tolls on behalf of Sanral.
Alli has led the agency since its establishment in 1998, and was meant to retire in July 2015. But finding his replacement wasn’t easy and his contract was repeatedly extended. He retired this month.
Alli leaves behind a high-performing technical team, whose buy-in Macozoma will seek.
"Sanral is an entity I understand very well. If you go through my track record [as chief director] in the department of transport, [you will see that] Sanral was part of my portfolio, and I had a stint on the board. I appreciate the challenges it faces and have my own idea of how to do things differently," he says.
Key among his challenges are fears about the financial health of state entities. Sanral’s finances are under pressure, and some of the reasons for that are outside its control. Sanral will focus on what it can control, he says.
Fierce resistance to electronic tolling of Gauteng highways as part of the R20bn Gauteng freeway improvement project has left a hole in the agency’s pocket. And the supreme court of appeal has put an end to Sanral’s plans to toll the N1 and N2 in the Western Cape.
Sanral has cash to last it until the end of 2017, but Macozoma acknowledges the limitations of reliance on market funding. If necessary, it may look at alternative income streams.
Sanral’s latest bond auction, in September, attracted bids of R1.7bn, far more than the R500m it was looking for. This, it said at the time , was a signal the market saw it as a good investment.
But it is no guarantee that Sanral will ever get more people to pay for the use of Gauteng’s highways. Hostile metro governments on both ends of the freeway — in the DA-led metros of Tshwane and Johannesburg — compound its troubles.
There is scope to engage with government and influence policy, he believes. And travel demand management needs to be reintroduced to the discussion. "Our cities seem congested, but reallypeople are not managing demand.
"Like with water and electricity, we think we can build ourselves out of the problem," he says. To counter this would require improved public perception of Sanral. E-tolling has created an impression with some that the agency is "pro-dominance" and "not a team player".
"I want to focus on the broader role that Sanral can play in the road sector, where we have amassed a lot of technical expertise. We provide support to municipalities and provinces."
Macozoma is the former MD of the Johannesburg Roads Agency. He holds an MSc in civil engineering and was chief officer: transport & logistics on the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee.