During President Jacob Zuma’s first State of the Nation address (SoNA) in 2009 he emphasised the importance of building economic and social infrastructure. In 2012 the infrastructure drive was significantly ramped up when government adopted the National Infrastructure Plan. Its rollout is being overseen by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee (PICC) that ensures the infrastructure construction proceeds without undue delays.
When the democratically elected government assumed office nearly 20 years ago they inherited a deeply divided nation. Years of systematic oppression and segregation had created an unequal society plagued by massive socio-economic challenges.Under the leadership of former President Nelson Mandela, South Africa implemented the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which sought to address the immense challenges that faced our new nation. Through the RDP former President Mandela’s administration committed to alleviate poverty and address the massive shortfalls in social services across the country.
A key pillar of the RDP was delivering infrastructure to reverse the ills of apartheid. Successive administrations since 1994 have prioritised infrastructure as a means to build communities, change lives and provide hope for a better tomorrow.
Investments in infrastructure have resulted in a dramatically changed urban and rural landscape. The highways, along with the rail and road network that we travel on have been upgraded and improved.
Iconic structures such as the World Cup stadiums stand as proud reminders of how far we have come as a nation. Power lines dot the sky, evidence of government’s commitment to provide electricity to the nation. Clean drinking water flows from taps across the length and breadth of our country.
The infrastructure build programme has since become a key driver of economic growth and job creation. President Zuma highlighted the importance of infrastructure at the launch of the Spring Grove Dam in KwaZulu-Natal in November 2013.
“Through our national infrastructure plan we are building dams, bridges, roads, refurbishing schools, hospitals, ports and airports and also building power stations to boost electricity supply. It is an exciting programme which is changing the face of the country. Government has taken a decision to prioritise infrastructure development as this is the foundation of socio-economic development,” he said.
When the 2009 administration came in led by President Zuma the National Infrastructure Plan was clustered into 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) which are divided in geographic, energy, spatial and social infrastructure development projects.
They cover social and economic infrastructure across all nine provinces. These projects cover more than 150 specific infrastructure interventions in rail, road and ports, dams, irrigation systems, sanitation and electricity.
More than R1 trillion has already been invested in national infrastructure projects between 2009 and 2014, while R451 billion was spent between 2004 and 2008.
In the latter half of 2013 a number of infrastructure projects were officially opened. The Grootvlei Power Station in Balfour was re-opened following a R7.2 billion expenditure upgrade. The return to service of the power station will contribute to easing electricity demand requirements on the national grid.
In October last year President Zuma opened the R81 road which links Polokwane and Giyani. The R71 road, currently under construction, will link Polokwane and Tzaneen. Both these roads will change the lives of thousands of motorist who use them daily, thus making it easier to move people and goods. Once the R71 road is completed, tourism will also receive a boost as it leads to the Kruger National Park. It will allow the smooth movement to tourist destinations in the Mpumalanga and beyond.
Over the last two years a total of R251 million was spent in the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipal area in upgrading the electricity network to improve the supply. Since 1994 over 5.75 million households have been electrified. This is in contrast to the 34 per cent of households who had access to electricity during the apartheid era. It is an improvement of over 86 per cent in the last 20 years.
Government has also spent R490 million in upgrading the Umthatha Airport. A new runway has been constructed and the airport can now receive larger aircraft, which will in turn unlock the economic potential of the region.
Projects still in the pipeline include two new universities in Mpumulanga and the Northern Cape. Twelve Further Education and Training Colleges will be built while new and refurbished schools are constantly being delivered.
Our water supply infrastructure has been boosted with the construction of the Spring Grove dam in KwaZulu-Natal and the De Hoop Dam in Limpopo which is almost completed. In 1994 the majority of South Africans did not have access to water, the provision of water is a basic human right and has accordingly being prioritised by government. Over 90 per cent of the population now has access to clean drinking water.
Government has invested heavily in infrastructure because we firmly believe that it is more than just about bricks and mortar. Our investment in infrastructure positions the economy over the longer term to increase productivity, attract more foreign investment and become more competitive.
However, the true impact of this spending is being felt across the many villages and towns in South Africa. Access to education, water, electricity, sanitation and transport is changing lives, while unlocking economic development, creating jobs and improving working and living conditions.
As the nation draws closer to celebrating 20 Years of Freedom we can rightly be proud of the strides we have made. Our commitment to creating a better South Africa has not wavered and we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure a better life for all. Every South African has a responsibility to cherish these achievements. Importantly, let us all protect these investments and let them continue to build a future and a better life for us today and generations to come.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)