Public upgrades to boost the economy

24 September 2013

Phumla WilliamsSouth Africa is a hive of building activity and it is about to get even busier. Key infrastructure projects will be rolled out over the next seven months in water, transport, energy and education.

These projects are part of government's multitrillion-rand public infrastructure programme which has been unlocking economic and job opportunities around the country. Last week President Jacob Zuma re-opened the Grootvlei Power Station in Balfour, Mpumalanga as part of the rollout.

The power station was built in the late 1960s but was mothballed in 1990 due to excess power at the time. It was then re-commissioned in 2005 with an investment of R7.2 billion. Our infrastructure investments are more than just bricks and cement; they are intended to transform the economic landscape and strengthen the delivery of basic services.

The power station generates 1200 megawatts which will sustain the electricity supply for more than 42 000 residents in the surrounding townships of Nthorwane, Siyathemba and Grootvlei Extension 1.

Moreover, it will support electricity demand on the national grid when other power stations undergo routine maintenance. It is part of Eskom's return-to-service projects which include other mothballed power stations namely Camden and Komati in Mpumalanga.

Our investment in energy and its supporting infrastructure, through three Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) that focus on the sector, is laying the ground for long-term development. Opening the power station President Zuma said: "We have prioritised infrastructure development because it is critical to enabling and promoting economic growth."

Our roads, railways, ports, pipelines, airports, dams, power stations, transmission and distributions lines form the backbone for economic growth and also contribute to an improvement in the quality of life."

President Zuma, who drives infrastructure development through the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC), also inspected progress made in the construction of the Balfour Railway Line.

This secondary railway line is a secondary railway line will initially transport 3 million tons of coal a year to the Grootvlei power station and has the capability to increase that to 7 million tons a year. The Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba said the first phase of the project was due to be completed by Decembe and the second phase by April.

During the construction phase over 300 jobs would have been created. The Eskom power station project has already employed over 3800 people during peak operations. Another 750 new jobs are being sustained in the construction of the Majuba railway line in Mpumalanga that will link Ermelo to Eskom's Majuba power station. This is the first new large rail line constructed since 1986.

Other infrastructure projects being rollout include the launch of the Spring Grove Dam in KwaZulu-Natal and De Hoop Dam in Limpopo; the latter has a storage capacity of about 58 million cubic metres to ensure a steady water supply for domestic use and for the local mining industry.

The launch of the Bridge City and Rail Link project in KwaZulu-Natal, constructed at a cost of over R5 bn, will serve 40 000 commuters a day and handle 14 000 passengers in peak hours. New railway carriages will be unveiled in the Eastern Cape, and the R71 road from Polokwane to Tzaneen will be launched.

In addition, over 15 schools will be handed over as part of the first phase of the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, in line with our commitment to deliver one school a week. Through our prioritisation of infrastructure development, the biggest and most ambitious plan in our history, the government has become one of the biggest employers in the country.

Within the term of the current administration, it will spend R1-trillion on infrastructure projects as part of a long term total infrastructure investment of more than R4 trillion. Our large-scale developments such as electricity plants; rail and road upgrades; and water infrastructure will sustain between 50 000 and 100 000 jobs just in the construction sector up to 2015 and create countless indirect jobs.

Through our investment in infrastructure development, we have stimulated economic activity in areas which would not necessarily attract private sector interest. Since the adoption of the New Growth Path employment has increased by 750 000, with just under half of these jobs having been generated in the public service, especially among the ranks of health workers, teachers and the police.

The government is set on leading and guiding the economy in the interests of national development, achieving higher rates of growth and fostering social inclusion. Our investment in infrastructure is helping restore private sector confidence in the local economy after the global economic downturn.

We encourage the private sector, which is reported to be holding over R500bn in uninvested cash, to partner with government to realise this massive infrastructure development drive so that we can fast-track our efforts to create employment.

In the economic environment, our investment in infrastructural is crucial to unlock economic opportunities, expand investment and create jobs. It is in everyone's interest to work together to ensure the success of our programme and change people's lives.

Phumla Williams is CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)