The mandate of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) includes assisting the people of South Africa but site visits by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans to bridges, particularly on the eve of national and provincial elections, smacks of electioneering and not service delivery.
This was how Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais reacted to a weekend Defence and Military Veterans Ministry statement, inviting media to cover a ministerial visit to the Port St Johns area today (Monday).
The statement has it that Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will “conduct a site visit to Eastern Cape province to check the pedestrian bridges”. She will be accompanied by the ministers of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Zweli Mkhize) and Public Works (Thulas Nxesi).
The ministerial visit will concentrate on areas affected by recent flooding which saw landslides causing loss of infrastructure, including bridges and roads. This led to the SA Army Engineer Formation being tasked to assist with provision of pedestrian bridges to enable people to access schools, water and healthcare services, among others. This type of work is not new to the Formation and it has, reportedly, almost exhausted its supply of World War Two era Bailey Bridges and is seeking alternative replacements.
Just on a month ago Mapisa-Nqakula handed two bridges to Eastern Cape communities affected by flooding which, among others, saw six children drown while attempting to cross the swollen Freyistata River near Matatiele.
The ministerial statement has it that “assessment of the bridges is to ensure communities are safe” using the new infrastructure. It goes on to say the SA Army Engineering Regiment (sic) is currently building six bridges in Eastern Cape. Three are in the Port St Johns areas, two in Mbizana and one in Nyandeni. According to the official SA Army website the Engineer Formation’s structure has three field regiments and four special units. These are 35 Engineer Support Regiment, 1 Construction Regiment, 4 Survey and Map Regiment and 1 Military Print Regiment.
Marais told defenceWeb he has no problem with the military being put to work to help South Africans in need adding it was “yet another indication of neglect” by the ANC-led government.
“If those in national control and of Eastern Province planned properly and spent funds wisely proper bridges and other infrastructure, that can withstand flooding, would have been in place. That would have made it unnecessary for emergency assistance from the SANDF,” Marais said, calling today’s site visit “unabashed electioneering”.
“Making it worse is the three ministers will be spending taxpayer money getting to and from Port St Johns for what is undoubtedly a last minute electioneering ploy.”