The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), specifically by way of the SA Army Engineer Formation, continues to be a vital cog in national government’s initiative to reduce what is termed the “backlog of bridge infrastructure in rural and disadvantaged communities”.
Known as the Welisizwe Bridges Project, it has a R3.3 billion budget to build 134 bridges in six provinces over the next three years, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala said on Friday 27 October. He was the main functionary at the Eastern Cape Province town of Port St Johns, where construction and erection work on two pedestrian bridges is underway. The bridges – Ntlenga and Sunrise – are, according to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), 50% complete and will assist local residents safety-wise during “rainy seasons”.
Zikalala’s DPWI is the lead government department for Welisizwe with the Sappers, in all probability 1 Construction Regiment and either 2 or Umkhonto field engineer regiments, providing equipment and people power. Provincial transport departments from the Eastern Cape (Welisizwe pilot province), Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West, as bridge recipients, are the third party in the project.
The origins of the Engineer Formation’s involvement in Welisizwe is not readily available but is believed to come from World War II stock of Bailey bridges, suitable for pedestrian traffic. defenceWeb was unofficially informed some time ago that all suitable Bailey bridges had been positioned and further stock was being sourced with local and offshore component manufacturers and suppliers considered.
Zikalala told the Port St Johns event there are and will be seven Engineer Formation soldiers overseeing work at each bridge site where five artisans and 40 workers, recruited as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), are hands-on. Skills transfer in areas such as welding, earthworks and soil retention takes place on all Welisizwe sites.
“The Department of Defence (SA Army) has committed to providing assistance with regards to construction vehicles, construction machine operators, artisans and the expansion of military temporary bases where necessary,” he said.
“Since the programme is expected to deliver 48 legacy bridges plus 96 bridges initially announced by the President for the 2023/24 financial year, phased construction will take place simultaneously at all bridge sites with augmented resources to a total of 100 bridges in all six provinces,” Zikalala explained.
The Welisizwe project targets rural provinces where there is a backlog in construction of bridges and a threat to life during rainy seasons.