Labour-based Construction and Maintenance Programme

The fact that KwaZulu-Natal hosts 21% of South Africa’s poor and that 75% of the poor live in rural areas indicates that there is very substantial scope to use labour-based methods in the construction and maintenance of rural access roads.

Roads are built where people live and therefore their construction and maintenance creates work opportunities for those who are least mobile. Further, roads can be designed to create work and entepreneurial opportunities which fit the skills profile of of local communities. supply of work in rural communities far exceeds its demand. This in itself provides a compelling case to invest in labour-based construction methods. The use of labour-based methods also addresses a wider range of other critical problems:

  • It creates employment opportunities for those least able to compete on the job market.
  • Labour-based construction methods are supervision intensive and therefore create significant local administrative and management opportunities for the educated unemployed.
  • Work can be timed to absorb labour during the agricutural off season. In this way the safety nets of rural households can be strengthened.
  • Labour-based construction methods place a strong emphasis on local labour, local expertise and locally available materials. This results in considerable savings in foreign exchange associated with imported machine, fuel, materials and expertise.
  • Training on the technical aspects of road construction as well as the administrative aspects of project management is provided.

Labour-based methods in road construction and maintenance are cost efficient and at the same time empower local communities.

The maintenance of rural access roads through labour-based methods is addressed by the Development Directorate’s Zibambele programme. The Development Directorate is currently reviewing the results of the pilot projects with the intention of developing a programmatic approach to labour-based methods.

A spin off of labour-based methods which might be unique to the KwaZulu-Natal situation is the contribution that such projects make to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. This is well illustrated by the Nkonjane Project at khaKhandisa close to the University of Zululand. During the 1990’s this area was severely disrupted by political violence. The area is characterised by massive unemployment even of young people with tertiary education, degrees and diplomas. The Nkonjane project was motivated to the Department of Transport by youth in the area to create desperately needed work opportunities. Over 80 people, predominantly youth, were employed on the project. The project cemented an important peace process that was driven by youth. It is a good example of community and government working together to build social and physical infrastructure that will benefit all in the years to come.

Labour-based methods in road construction and maintenance are cost efficient and at the same time empower local communities.


The Zibambele Road Maintenance Contract System is a poverty alleviation programme creating sustainable jobs for poor rural families while they maintain rural roads. In order to break poverty cycles in the medium to long term the Department employs a household rather than an individual. This ensures that a household does not rely on one person for continuity of the contract.

Zibambele is a routine road maintenance programme using labour intensive methods. It encourages flexible working hours thus allowing households adequate time to deploy their labour on other activities.

Zibambele has already achieved more than one third of the targeted 40 000 contracts.

A Zibambele household will maintain the road drainage system, ensure good roadside visibility, maintain the road surface in good condition, and clear the road verges of litter and noxious weeds.

  • The length of the road allocated to each household depends on the difficulty of the terrain, the more difficult the terrain the shorter the length of road.
  • The maintanance need of the road is based on a maximum of sixty working hours per month.
  • A Zibambele contract is awarded for twelve months and is renewed annually.
  • Contracts target the poorest of the poor, who are identified and selected by their own community.
  • Zibambele focuses on woman headed households who make up the majority of the poorest families.
  • Training includes technical skills on road maintenance and social development and life skills.
  • Support services include assisting contractors to, obtain identity documents, open bank accounts, organize themselves collectively into credit unions, and invest savings in other productive activities.

In order to facilitate the cost effective supervision and training of contractors the Development Directorate has piloted the organization of Zibambele contractors into savings clubs. A constitution, developed in consultation with Zibambele contractors, has been prepared. This allows the Development directorate to roll out the establishment of Zibambele Savings Clubs from the original pilot initiatives. The purpose of the Savings Club initiative is to strengthen Zibambele contractors’ roles in rural enterprise development and provide the institutional framework to create wealth amongst the poorest of the poor.

An independent evaluation of Zibambele by SALDRU (University of Cape Town) found Zibambele to be both a cost efficient road maintenance system and a cost effective poverty alleviation programme. The SALDRU finding, in 2001/2002, that seventy three cents of every rand spent within the programme accrued to Zibambele contractors compares very favourably with other poverty alleviation programmes both in South Africa and internationally. Zibambele was piloted by the Development Directorate in 1999/2000, (2 700 contracts issued). Zibambele has already achieved more than one third of the targeted contracts.

 For More Information Contact

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport
172 Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg, 3201
Private Bag X9043, Pietermaritzburg, 3200
Republic of South Africa