Driving a Developmental and Implementation Focused Infrastructure Programme

Apr 20, 2022

Since 1994, the South African government’s strategies and plans have included many plans, often unrealised because we have not focussed on the action plans necessary to ensure development and growth.  When asked what should government do to stimulate the economy, the common response  is that we need to invest in infrastructure.  However, the details are vague and non-specific on what infrastructure should be prioritized, who should be responsible to implement, and where we should focus.  And all the while we continue to live in a country where poverty, unemployment and inequality continue to dominate and these are reinforced as a result of our racist and colonial history.

Sadly, we continue to allow apartheid settlement patterns to persist, or to be exacerbated with more segregated development patterns.

While the unguided investment continues, workers and those seeking work end up building their own smaller scale infrastructure, usually shacks, close to where they find temporary or other work opportunities, but also in areas which are often unsafe and subject to the vagaries of weather.  This results in many poorer families being divided with two, sometimes three residences – one near to work; one providing an urban base; and a third more rural home – making it even more difficult to build sustainable human settlements.

At the same time, our urban water, sanitation and energy systems can’t cope with the increased, unplanned demand and throughout SA we have resultant water stoppages, sewer spillages and electricity shutdowns.

When coupled with instances of poor governance, poor financial management, and a lack of experience and capacity, we find that the resources we do have are often not providing services efficiently and effectively.  Whilst this may be expected in smaller, less  capacitated and resourced municipalities, it is also the case in highly capacitated municipalities with significant budgets.

What, then, are some of the things we must be doing to reverse these trends, ensuring we reverse the apartheid geography whilst building more resilience into our infrastructure.

Firstly, we must build on, and support, the fact that municipalities play a major role in providing the basic network services (reticulation of water, energy, transport, roads, solid waste, sanitation) with State owned Entities (SoEs) mainly providing build services and economic infrastructure.  Interestingly, municipal infrastructure expenditure is greater than that of national and provincial governments (excluding SOEs).  Unfortunately, over the past ten years there has been a decline in the investment in new capital and infrastructure and at the same time, the levels of maintenance and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure have also not achieved required levels.  Let’s learn from our recent past where it was the 12 host cities that built almost all the major infrastructure for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with national and provincial governments playing a supportive, mainly financial role in this process.

Second, we must strengthen the competency and capacity of our municipalities to deliver.  Implementation only succeeds when there is strong, stable and decisive political and administrative leadership which doesn’t tolerate corruption.  No plans should be developed that do not have realistic and achievable implementation plans. We must ensure we use existing capacity within and outside government, using people who have led the delivery of projects, rather than those who just talk about it. But we must also address the fact that 72% of all built environment professionals are in 8 metropolitan municipalities. We must firmly address supply chain management challenges, including those linked to corruption. Our leadership must firmly act against community and Business forum disruptions and we should not allow contractors to be appointed without the requisite capacity or competence.

Thirdly, we must work on ensuring our social rights programmes are better integrated and targeted in ways in which the most vulnerable are catered for.  This would include examining how best to ensure our wide ranging programmes of cash grants and the other baskets of support to poor households, such as the provision of Free Basic Services to indigent households, could be better arranged.  This requires an all of government process as municipalities are already struggling or will struggle to subsidise services.

Fourth our approach must be differentiated.  There is significant differentiation across our country in terms of economic opportunities and social circumstances.  Over 80% of South Africa’s population now live on 2% of the land, but it also means that 80% of households living in backyard shacks and informal settlements are located in less than 60 municipalities.  These municipalities contain over 75% of the country’s GDP. The differentiation was also clearly evidenced in the way in which areas like the Garden Route District had the highest levels of COVID out of all districts and metropolitan areas.

The recent devastation due to rain and flooding also shows that whilst KZN and EC were hardest hit, the devastation affected some communities in those provinces much more than others.  Our responses, therefore, must target where the needs are and this must be done transparently to avoid allegations of corruption, theft of goods, and the like. We must target all development spatially: we cannot continue to try and do everything everywhere.  We simply do not have sufficient time and resources.

Finally, we must properly implement President Ramaphosa’s call for there to be much greater coordination at a District level of all available governmental technical/professional expertise.  But such capacity from national and provincial governments in particular, must treat municipalities as partners with competence, often at levels far greater than that provided through national/provincial spheres of government.

Overall, in our infrastructural development strategy we must be clear in how we:

  • Restructure the existing apartheid geography, whilst enhancing the existing capacity of our infrastructure through regular maintenance and rehabilitation.
  • Capacitate administrative and political leaders in government and through this process build a new generation of leaders who can plan in an integrated way, act strategically, and implement efficiently and effectively.
  • Use technology to teach learners rather than only focusing on hardware to solve our problems. Technology can be used to create more efficient infrastructure, such as providing improved bulk infrastructure so we don’t lose 50% of the water we collect in dams; turbines can generate energy in our bulk pipes; sanitation- and storm- water can be recycled locally; sanitation systems can be designed to use less water; more off-grid renewable energy needs to be used; and free basic wifi should be provided in all public places.
  • Providing infrastructure in an integrated way: this should mean that no plan or programme should be allowed if it is not part of our overall implementation strategy. Integrating planning and implementation will allow us to plan in an integrated way, implement in an integrated way and monitor in an integrated way.