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Building sustainable infrastructure for generations

By Chris Campbell, CEO of Consulting Engineers South Africa

AMIDST the awe-inspiring accomplishments of our South African athletes, who have united the nation under the banner of excellence, it is imperative that we channel this unity and collective will towards addressing one of our nation’s most pressing challenges: infrastructure development. Just as Banyana Banyana, the Proteas netball team, Kat Swanepoel, and our Rugby team have showcased the strength of unity, our collective efforts can propel us towards a brighter future, where sustainable infrastructure serves as the foundation for prosperity that benefits all.

Infrastructure, the lifeline of a functioning society, lies at the heart of our national progress. Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) recognizes the vital importance of sustainable infrastructure in shaping our economic growth, enhancing the quality of life of our citizens, and securing our nation’s future. As we revel in the achievements of our athletes, it’s crucial to acknowledge the immense positive impact that well-planned and resilient infrastructure can have on our society.

Decaying infrastructure has far-reaching negative consequences, undermining both economic growth and societal well-being. Inadequate basic services impede commercial and public investment, hindering the potential for a thriving economy. To provide access to healthcare, education, and opportunities for all, we must first ensure access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation, and functional transportation systems. The recent gas explosion in Johannesburg’s Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) starkly illuminated the need for better understanding and maintenance of our urban infrastructure.

This incident underscores the importance of documentation and technical expertise in ensuring the safety and efficiency of our cities. It also reveals a wider challenge: a shortage of technical skills among professionals and artisans alike. The lack of investment in trade schools and vocational education has left us with an aging workforce and a dearth of skilled individuals capable of maintaining and improving our infrastructure systems.

While the challenges are substantial, a focused and systematic approach can yield tangible solutions. It’s imperative that we prioritize key areas for intervention, directing resources and expertise to areas where they can make a significant impact. By addressing critical issues one step at a time, we can steadily overcome the immense obstacles in our path.

Yet, these solutions demand a comprehensive plan that transcends political boundaries and policies that may have contributed to the deterioration in the first place. In this context, power utility Eskom looms large, an issue that demands thoughtful analysis and reform to reverse the damage inflicted by mismanagement and corruption. Eskom’s challenges are indicative of a broader problem in our nation’s administration and planning, which must be addressed to secure our fundamental well-being. 

Lessons drawn from this experience should be used to prevent a similar crisis in our water sector, where similar ills are already evident. We cannot be seen to be “kicking this can down the road” as well, until such time that we find the phrase “water shedding” becoming part of our daily lives and in the vocabulary of our children and grandchildren across the country. Temporary water tanks and tankers, which have become permanent owing to corruption, arguably linked to the deliberate sabotage and neglect of functioning water infrastructure needs to be rooted out. Public-private partnerships are imperative if we are to restore the functioning and capacity of  countless water treatment plants, which are currently not functional. Let us indeed be serious about declaring a: “War on Leaks”, where these losses of potable water continue unabated for months on end, have grown from around 30% and is now edging closer to 40%.   

Together, we can rise above our challenges and ensure that the legacy we leave for future generations is one of progress, resilience, and enduring unity and importantly sustainable infrastructure that serves the needs of our ever growing population.

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