Engineer Formation committed to 95 rural bridges


The SA Army Engineer Formation, familiarly the Sappers, is integral to improving the lives of rural people by way of putting in place Bailey-type bridges making access to, among others, health services easier.

The rural bridges programme – Welisizwe – concentrates on coastal provinces Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and, according to the Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), has erected 19 bridges over the past two years.

Welisizwe is a joint effort involving the departments of ministers Thandi Modise (Defence and Military Veterans) and Patricia de Lille (Public Works and Infrastructure). A statement issued to coincide with the handover of a Welisizwe bridge in KwaZulu-Natal’s Empangeni area last May had it the programme is part of “government’s response to challenges of access to social facilities and forms part of the SONA (State of the Nation Address) commitments announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa”.

At its core Welisizwe provides “urgent safe access to social amenities such as schools, places of work and clinics”. The bridges have a further purpose when natural and other disasters strike, such as torrential rain followed by flooding previously in KwaZulu-Natal and earlier this week in the Eastern Cape’s Coffee Bay area.

According to DCC, the Eastern Cape has benefitted from five vehicle bridges and KwaZulu-Natal from 14 (four pedestrian). The official response to a defenceWeb inquiry has it there are currently (as of February 2023) 11 bridges under construction in KwaZulu-Natal. De Lille’s department has it that since the 2020/21 financial year 14 bridges were built in “various KwaZulu-Natal communities”.

It is widely held the Engineer Formation initially used World War II Bailey bridges it had “in stock” to alleviate the plight of rural communities. Not so, according to DCC.

“In 2014, all the stock level of Bailey bridges possessed by the SA Army was depleted and since then there hasn’t been any stock left. To mitigate this gap, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DWPI) entered into an agreement with a local manufacturer for the supply of Bailey bridge components.”

All components for bridges under assembly and positioning are on the various sites with “next deliveries expected soon for identified gaps” the national defence force’s designated communication directorate told this publication.

Army engineers will be assembling, erecting and positioning locally manufactured bridge components for the next five years in terms of an agreement with DPWI. Their workload, as set out in the 2022 Presidential SONA, is 95 bridges.