South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was in deep rural KwaZulu-Natal yesterday (Wednesday, 31 January) overseeing another rural bridge completed with input from the SA Army Engineer Formation.
The bridge is part of the ongoing Welisizwe rural bridges project, designated a strategic integrated one by lead government agency the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).
Dignitaries present included South Africa’s senior soldier, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, as well as Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, SA Army Chief with the Engineer Formation one of nine he commands.
Addressing locals and dignitaries at the Ngilanyoni sports field in Mkhambathini, adjacent to the latest bridge to be taken into service, Ramaphosa said the Welisizwe bridges were one of government’s “most important initiatives to improve safety, well-being and access for rural communities”. This was because the bridges boosted local economies by making mobility easer, supporting local businesses and creating jobs.
“Bridges handed over today,” Ramaphosa said, “will make it easier for communities to get to the clinic and hospital, to school, to town and to places of work. It will make it easier for them to fetch supplies and take produce to market”.
“Because of climate change, extreme weather events like flooding are becoming increasingly common. Communities living along and close to rivers are particularly vulnerable. That is why we see building more Welisizwe rural bridges as a priority,” he said.
In 2020 a DPWI presentation to Parliament’s Select Committee on Executive Undertakings noted the strategic integrated project (SIP) 25 – Welisizwe Rural Bridges – would require “a team of up to 50 SANDF members” with 60 to 90 people from local communities part of the construction by way of the Expanded Public Works Programme (PWP), administered by the DPWI. The presentation had it the SANDF then had “capacity to implement 43 bridges concurrently”.
At Welisizwe’s outset, the Engineer Formation was using World War II Bailey bridge components. When these were exhausted, the Sappers sourced new components from local and offshore manufacturers to ensure the project could continue. In his address at the Mkhambathini bridge, Ramaphosa said South African companies specialising in the manufacture and supply of “steel, modular type bridges” are on board with local suppliers benefitting by way of material supplies. This includes stones (presumably aggregate to fill gabions), cement, concrete, road sign paint and personal protective equipment.
In his 2023 State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa outlined government’s plan to construct at least 96 bridges during the 2023/24 financial year. Some 11 bridges have been completed in KwaZulu-Natal with at least 58 other bridges currently under construction throughout the country.