“We have good quality infrastructure, but in far too many cases it is not properly maintained or upgraded.”
Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter on Monday that South Africa has “world-class” infrastructure that should simply be used to achieve the country’s development goals.
In order for development to take place, however, infrastructure will need to be properly and efficiently maintained.
“Although many parts of the country still experience poor service delivery, South Africa has a good core network of public infrastructure that can improve the lives of our citizens,” says Ramaphosa.
According to the president, the country is consistently placed high on indices that evaluate the status of transport, electricity, water and sanitation infrastructure.
“South Africa is in the top five countries in Africa with the best public infrastructure.”
This is according to the latest poll of the African Development Bank.
Infrastructure ‘under pressure’
However, according to Ramaphosa, the existing infrastructure is failing because it is trying to keep up with a greater demand than it was originally designed for. This leads to breakdowns that can be fatal.
“We continue to see the adverse effects when public infrastructure is not maintained. We see how accidents, outbreaks and other tragedies occur due to dilapidated infrastructure,” he says.
Last year, the South African Institute of Civil Engineers gave the country’s social infrastructure a D rating. An E rating is when the infrastructure is completely dilapidated and the passenger railway line has been given precisely this rating.
Ramaphosa says there is hope to get the country’s infrastructure right again.
Last week he visited the Vulindlela water supply scheme in KwaZulu-Natal, which largely supplies water to the uMgungundlovu and Umsunduzi municipalities.
When the scheme was set up 25 years ago, it served only 100,000 people. Now it serves almost three times as many people and this has put severe pressure on the infrastructure.
A new phase of upgrades will soon begin at the scheme and must ensure that around 350,000 residents receive clean water.
The Darvill wastewater treatment plant outside Pietermaritzburg has also been renovated and will now be able to treat up to 100 million liters of water per day to serve households, businesses and industries in this municipality.
Fault lies with municipalities
The responsibility to maintain public infrastructure rests with local governments, but according to Ramaphosa, many of the municipalities still fail to use the grants allocated to them to maintain and upgrade infrastructure.
The national treasury recently said that just over half of the municipal infrastructure grants allocated are spent by municipalities.
Part of the problem, however, is that municipalities, especially smaller local authorities, do not have enough implementation capacity and therefore do not use the full grant properly. Ramaphosa says that those municipalities that do not use their grants must be brought to book.
There are municipalities that spend their grants correctly and on time. A total of 91% of the money allocated to municipalities in the Western and Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal after the recent floods has already been spent by the respective municipalities to help rebuild infrastructure.
“This is proof that municipalities can overcome the problem of underspending on infrastructure with the necessary support, technical assistance, planning and coordination,” says Ramaphosa.
The department of cooperative government, as well as the national treasury, have already undertaken together with the national and provincial governments to support municipalities to use their budgets efficiently and “fulfill their responsibility towards South Africans”.
“The government also continues to prioritize infrastructure nationwide,” says Ramaphosa.
“Construction is already underway on several large-scale water, housing, energy and road projects. Together with better maintenance of infrastructure, we are determined that these investments will make a big difference in people’s lives.”