Welisizwe rural bridges programme

.By Gill Price

Bridges are more than crossings – they connect people and communities and multiply the potential for growth by expanding access to social economic and cultural opportunities.  

In his 2022 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the fast-tracking of the construction of bridges especially in rural areas to address infrastructure backlogs and to ensure safer rural communities during floods. 

A year later in 2023, President Ramaphosa reported that 24 bridges in KwaZulu-Natal were under construction while a further 24 were in the stage of on-site preparations. 

During this year the President oversaw the handover of one of the completed bridges in KwaZulu-Natal at Ngilanyoni Sports Field, Mkhambathini. The bridge forms part of the Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme aimed at addressing the infrastructure backlog in rural areas, especially bridges damaged by floods.

The persistent heavy rains in rural areas over the past few years has had a devastating effect, causing damage to roads and bridges. Making it impossible to cross rivers and forcing people and learners to stay at home as well as halting economic activities. 

The construction of bridges in rural areas aims to improve communities’ access to health facilities, schools and economic amenities. It is managed by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and provincial Transport Departments. The initiative forms part of the Strategic Integrated Project (SIP-25) and supports government’s economic recovery programme. 

In July 2020 a total of 62 Strategic Integrated Projects were gazetted and hold significant value in terms of growing our economy and driving development. These projects are being implemented across all three spheres of government, state-owned entities and the private sector.

There are 58 bridges that are currently under construction across the country, with 11 having been completed in KwaZulu Natal.

The building of bridges in rural areas has created work opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). Each bridge site has five artisans and 40 EPWP workers, and skills which include welding, ground work and soil retention are being transferred to workers. 

About 48 bridges will be constructed in each of the six provinces during the 2023/24–2025/26 period totalling 288 bridges by the end of the 2025/26.  About 1045 job opportunities will be created in each province in one financial year comprising 64 artisans, 960 EPWP participants and 21 graduates.

Over and above the EPWP job opportunities, 136 artisans and professionals will be given experiential learning opportunities on 96 bridge sites.

Our infrastructure investments are at the heart of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to improve economic opportunities in rural areas, standards of living and social cohesion. We are using this initiative to reverse the strangle hold that apartheid’s policies had inflicted on the country’s rural poor.

As government, we are proud of the work catalytic intervention to use infrastructure to create job opportunities and transform our economy. However, much more needs to be done and we need the help of all South Africans and all sectors of society to ensure that we unlock growth, create jobs and ignite hope for a better tomorrow.

Gill Price is Director: Communication Resource Centre at Government Communication and Information System