Around half of South Africa’s public infrastructure has collapsed or is close to collapsing, and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
This is the warning from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice).
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Something has to be done or South Africa may become a failed state, said Saice President Professor Marianne Vanderschuren at the release of its 2022 Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) on Friday.
“Without infrastructure, our economy and our society cannot function.”
Going downhill …
Vanderschuren said the overall grade in the IRC was a ‘D’ compared to a ‘D+’ in 2006 and is the lowest rating since the IRC was first published in 2006.
She said there was an improvement in South Africa’s infrastructure to a ‘C-‘ with the investment made for the Fifa World Cup in 2010 “but the trend has been downwards ever since”.
The IRC scorecard is based on a five-point scale where:
- ‘A’ is world class
- ‘B’ is fit for the future
- ‘C’ is satisfactory for now
- ‘D’ is at risk of failure, and
- ‘E’ is unfit for purpose.
The report covers 14 sectors and features a snapshot of the current condition and performance of 32 sub-sectors of infrastructure.
Saice 2023 president-elect Steven Kaplan said the overall goal of the IRC is to increase awareness and influence change for the better.
“We aim to also stimulate debate on the condition of South Africa’s infrastructure and its effect on the quality of life and the economy,” he said.
SA gets one A … and too many unfit-for-purpose ratings
The Gautrain is the only infrastructure sub-sector to receive an ‘A’ rating, with eight subsectors obtaining a ‘B’ rating, six a ‘C’, 13 a ‘D’ and four an ‘E’.
The report said the Gautrain is deemed “world class” because its infrastructure is in good condition and sound maintenance practices are in place, although the track geometry has deteriorated since the line was built.
The four sub-sectors to receive “unfit for purpose” ratings are the rail branch lines, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) branch lines, sanitation and wastewater in all areas except urban areas, and provincial and municipal unpaved roads.
Vanderschuren said it is “heartbreaking” that the country at this point does not have any passenger rail anymore.
“In the past, for every Prasa train that was not running, we had 100 overloaded minibus taxis on the road. The central line in Cape Town has completely collapsed. There used to be eight trains an hour … Our roads cannot cope with that volume of minibus of taxis even if the minibus taxi industry wants to have the work.
“We cannot continue on the train trajectory that we are on at the moment.”
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Vanderschuren said there are however centres of excellence in the country, such as the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa), Gautrain, Sanral, the Eskom transmission network, ICT, oil and gas pipelines, and the fishing harbours.
Underinvestment in infrastructure
IRC team convenor and Saice past president Sam Amod stressed that infrastructure is at the centre of everything people do in their social and economic lives, but South Africa has not invested enough in infrastructure since 1994.
“According to [National] Treasury itself, we need to be investing 30% of GDP in infrastructure. In 2020, it was 13.7%, less than half of what we should be doing,” Amod said.
“By 2030, Treasury has set a target to achieve 30% of GDP. It is a tall order to double your spending in the years that remain,” he warned.
Amod said the difference between social and economic infrastructure is important.
“If you do not invest enough in social infrastructure but keep the economic infrastructure working well, then the wealthy get wealthier and inequality gets wider and wider … Unless we invest in social infrastructure properly, we cannot give people the mobility to find jobs, you can’t keep them healthy, you can’t educate them so that they get jobs.”
Amod added that apart from not spending enough on infrastructure, South Africa does not care about its infrastructure.
Most infrastructure maintenance is reactive and needs to move to scheduled maintenance to prevent things going wrong, and then to predictive maintenance that will allow the country to use real time data to indicate where resources should be allocated, he said.
Amod said civil disrespect is the second part about South Africans not caring about its infrastructure.
“Eskom and the water boards are owed about R90 billion by municipalities. But the municipalities themselves are owed R255 billion by their customers.”
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“We have a culture of non-payment. In 2019, the general household survey showed that even as we continued to provide more water connections to households, the rate at which people were refusing to pay was faster than the rate at which we were providing new connections,” said Amod.
“This is a culture that cannot be sustained,” he added.
Other examples of South Africa not caring for its infrastructure cited by Amod includ:
- A very significant part of the budgets of state-owned enterprises are used to deal with theft and malicious damage;
- The decline in Eskom’s generation availability from 87% to below 65%, with a large portion of that due to a lack of maintenance; and
- The fourfold to fivefold increase in security incidents, including cable theft, on rail lines.
Amod said maintenance of infrastructure is cost effective because it results in paying less for infrastructure over time.
Maintenance that is deferred for a year can cost three to six times more, he warned.
Standard Bank chief economist and head of research Goolam Ballim said the IRC report importantly provides an indication of the state of infrastructure in the country.
Ballim said the conversation between government and social institutions, with a shared interest in an outcome, must be respectful in the sense of acknowledging each other’s separate but complementary functions and then to try and find shared solutions.
Listen to this Fix SA podcast with Jeremy Maggs speaking to Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala (or read the transcript):