Sappers integral to rural bridge building project


The partnership involving government via the national defence force and a national department as well as a private sector company has seen another speedily installed bridge connect isolated communities in the Eastern Cape.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) Welisizwe (meaning help the nation cross over) programme connects far-flung rural communities with essential services including transport.

The working components of the partnership are the SA Army Engineer Formation and BSE Distributors. The Edenvale, Gauteng-based company manufactures modular bridges, similar to the World War Two Bailey Bridges used by the Sappers until stock was exhausted.

Earlier this year DWPI Minister Patricia de Lille committed to erection of eight of the World War Two era “instant” bridges to link isolated, rural communities to services including healthcare at municipal district and provincial clinics. This was echoed more recently by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula elaborating on what the national defence force is doing, apart from enforcing lockdown regulations, to assist South Africans during the National State of Disaster.

In addition to making specific mention of the bridge initiative, the Minister also pointed out work done by the Sappers as far as water purification and supply are concerned.

All three initiatives were up and running before President Cyril Ramaphosa materially changed the lives of the majority of South Africans when he put the country under lockdown in mid-March, 116 days ago today (20 July).

Eight years ago, then SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Chief, retired lieutenant general Derrick Mgwebi, now acting director general at the Department of Military Veterans (DMV) warned the military was running out of bridges. He was reported as saying the stock of bridges used to assist communities would make is “difficult” to maintain bridge building going ahead.  The entrance of BSE Distributors as bridge component manufacturers, also active in the erection phase, kept this door open.

The latest addition to bridges supplied and erected by the three-component partnership is in the Bilatye community of the Chris Hani District municipality in the Eastern Cape.

A DPWI statement has it that 40 expanded public works programme (EPWP) participants from surrounding communities were employed and three local companies benefitted by providing construction material.

The Bilatye bridge will improve access for the Nyongwana, Esigxeni, Thobile Dyantyi, Bilatye, Kwenxura, Hola and Mbinzana communities. De Lille singled out pupils of Mfanta High School as special beneficiaries because their school was closed as a preventive measure against drowning during the rainy season.

The Bilatye bridge is number 24 in Eastern Cape with one in Gauteng, north of Pretoria.

According to the statement the coronavirus pandemic has seen some delays in the Welisizwe programme with three bridges currently being erected by Eastern Cape and one in KwaZulu-Natal.