According to the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), around half of South Africa’s public infrastructure has collapsed or is close to collapsing and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Action has to be taken soon to prevent South Africa becoming a failed state, said SAICE president, professor Marianne Vanderschuren at the release of its 2022 Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) on 11 November.
Vanderschuren listed the overall grade in the IRC at a ‘D’ compared to a ‘D+’ in 2006. It is the lowest rating since the IRC was first published in 2006. While there was an improvement in pockets of South Africa’s infrastructure to a ‘C-‘ due primarily to the investment made for the Fifa World Cup in 2010, nonetheless “the trend has been downwards ever since”.
The IRC covers 14 sectors and features a snapshot of the current condition and performance of 32 sub-sectors of infrastructure. The 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.
SAICE 2023 president-elect Steven Kaplan says 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 says.
SA has 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 describes the Gautrain as “world class” because its infrastructure is in good condition and sound maintenance practices are in place, even though the track geometry has deteriorated somewhat since the line was built.
Four sub-sectors received “unfit for purpose” ratings: 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 described it as “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 or 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.”
Vanderschuren listed some remaining centres of excellence in South Africa: the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), Gautrain, Sanral, the Eskom transmission network, ICT, oil and gas pipelines, and the fishing harbours.
Under investment in infrastructure
IRC team convenor and SAICE past president Sam Amod emphasised that infrastructure is at the centre of everything people do in their social and economic lives, but South Africa has invested insufficiently in infrastructure since 1994.
According to National Treasury’s own figures, the country needs to be investing 30% of its GDP in infrastructure. “In 2020, it was 13.7%, less than half of what we should be doing. 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,” Amod says.
“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 suggests that apart from not spending enough on infrastructure, South Africa does not maintain its existing infrastructure. He noted that most infrastructure maintenance was being done on a reactive basis and needs to proactive through a scheduled maintenance system which would prevents things ever going wrong, and eventually to a predictive maintenance system that allows the use of real time data to indicate where resources should be allocated.
Amod described civil disrespect is another major part about South Africans not caring for their infrastructure. “Eskom and the water boards are owed about R90-billion by municipalities. But the municipalities themselves are owed R255-billion by their customers. 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. This is a culture that cannot be sustained,” says Amod.
Other examples of South Africa not caring for its infrastructure cited by Amod include:
- 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 notes that maintenance of infrastructure is cost effective because it results in paying less for infrastructure over time, while maintenance that is deferred for a year “can cost three to six times more”.