THE breath-taking Msikaba bridge in the Eastern Cape demands not just an excellent result, but also a collaborative process that engages local communities and small, medium-sized and micro enterprises (SMMEs). It is being constructed by Concor Infrastructure in a joint venture with Mota Engil Construction (MECSA).
According to Lebogang Matlala, Concor site agent at the Msikaba project, the project is proceeding well on the strength of positive contributions by local subcontractors. The Msikaba bridge – being built near Lusikisiki over the Msikaba River – will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in Africa, with a tower-to-tower length of 580 metres.
It is a vital part of the new 410 km N2 Wild Coast Road (N2WCR) between East London and Port Edward being constructed by the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL). The N2WCR is part of government’s Strategic Integrated Projects initiative, which aims to catalyse economic growth in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Our aim is not just to build an iconic bridge structure to the highest quality,” says Matlala. “We are also here to create a positive impact locally and to help change lives.”
He emphasises that this approach begins by recognising that the company is a temporary guest in the community, and therefore shows the necessary respect in how it operates. This has meant constant communication about the procurement process and construction plans more generally.
“For instance, it was important for us to understand the technical capacity of the local market, so that we could engage the right skills, resources and services from the area,” he says. “We have also invested considerable resources in training, guidance, coaching and mentorship for SMMEs that we engage.”
To affect SANRAL’s requirements to utilise and nurture small businesses from the project area a dedicated SMME department has been created by the JV on the project to work with local SMMEs and assist in various ways. It prepares businesses for possible opportunities through the expression-of-interest (EOI) process, as well as by theoretical and on-job training opportunities. These support services are vital for the long term success of local SMMEs, as they can develop their expertise and experience to grow their businesses into markets further afield, he says.
“Our project’s SMME department includes an accredited training practitioner and assessor, and a social facilitator,” says Matlala. “Our site engineers also work closely with subcontractors in terms of safety preparation, method statements, invoicing, documentation and their technical work on site.”
With this level of support, local SMMEs supply a range of important services and products to the Msikaba bridge project. These include the supplying of bulk fuel, transporting of labour, and providing plant for earthworks. They also carry out fencing works, drainage, plumbing, minor civils works, electrical work, security services, steel-fixing on the bridge itself and supply readymix concrete.
“We have found that the most successful SMMEs are those who are eager to learn and develop, with a willingness to participate fairly in our procurement processes,” he says. “They also have integrity, a good track record, and the determination to take on the challenges of running an independent business.”
Matlala acknowledges that a central challenge in conducting a sophisticated engineering project in a rural area is that there are seldom enough local SMMEs with the necessary skills and experience. Nonetheless, he highlights that Concor has seen considerable positive development in the local business landscape since the project began.
“It has been very rewarding for us to see the positive impact to date, and the changes in local perceptions, where many SMMEs want to work more with us in the future,” he says. “Through our approach and support, we would like to see SMMEs develop their self-reliance and to find other business opportunities to become more sustainable and create jobs.”
He highlights that Concor’s emphasis is always on technical excellence, even as they support some subcontractors. Enterprise development cannot be a tick-box exercise, he emphasises, as the quality of work can never be compromised.
“This approach ensures that we help develop SMMEs to a level where they perform to high standards, which is critical to their future contribution to both their customers and their communities,” says Matlala.