Ramaphosa commits Sappers to building rural bridges

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The SA Army Engineer Formation can look forward to a busy year if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s indication for a major upscaling of government’s Welisizwe rural bridges programme becomes reality.

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday (Thursday, 10 February) the programme administered by Patricia de Lille’s Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) was the lone mention of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in Ramaphosa’s eight thousand plus word speech.

“For millions of South Africans in rural areas, roads and bridges provide access to markets, employment opportunities and social services. Yet many children still have to brave overflowing rivers to reach schools and motorists have to battle impassable roads to reach the next town.

“We are therefore upscaling the Welisizwe rural bridges programme to deliver 95 bridges a year from the current 14.

“Our SANDF is the implementing agent of the Welisizwe programme and has demonstrated the expertise of SANDF engineers in bridge construction,” Ramaphosa told his Cape Town City Hall audience and thousands of viewers on the country’s three TV news channels.

In Xhosa “Welisizwe” means help the nation cross and the programme is gazetted as a strategic integrated project as part of government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan approved by Cabinet in May 2020.

The last bridge to be completed was handed to KwaZulu-Natal’s Ndwedwe Municipality, 60 km north of Durban, last November. Eight  of 14 Bailey bridges have been completed in KwaZulu-Natal under the project.

The Engineer Formation has, since democracy, put Bailey bridges across inhospitable ravines and rivers mostly in the Transkei region of Eastern Cape. Bridges have also been erected in northern Gauteng and the KwaZulu-Natal interior. The Eastern Cape has received 23 bridges. The average cost per bridge is between R5 and R8 million.