Sappers to build a bridge at Matatiele

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The SA Army’s Engineer Formation is again on the receiving end of a ministerial request, this time to assess assistance to an Eastern Cape community after six children drowned.

The request is in the form of a mandate from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. A statement from her office has it that an assessment team from the Sappers “will make a determination as to what should be done to aid the people of Pontseng, Matatiele, over and above the bridge to be constructed”.

The other ministerial injunction to the Sappers came from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his medium term budget address last October. He told the National Assembly “soldiers” would be brought in to clean up parts of the Vaal River clogged by sewage. That work, under the working title of Project Vaal River, is underway and led by 1 Construction Regiment. Indications are it will cost close to R800 million and be completed by the last quarter of this year.

The deployment of an assessment team to Matatiele follows what the Minister’s office said were a number of requests for assistance after the loss of six young lives. The children were “swept away” on their way home from school.

Building bridges to assist far-flung communities and villages in remote parts of Eastern Cape is not new for the engineers of the landward force. Mapisa-Nqakula notes “this team of engineers has been building bridges in rural Eastern Cape for a while now and therefore share a special bond with the northern part of the province”.

Last October SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, said assessments had been completed for nine bridges in the Eastern Cape. This is part of the national defence force’s contribution to Operation Chariot, providing humanitarian and disaster relief to all South Africans. Engineer Formation skills and equipment have previously been utilised to improve access to services by permanently putting down Bailey bridges and, in one instance defenceWeb has knowledge of, building a permanent bridge in Hammanskraal north of Pretoria. Bailey bridges have previously been positioned to ease access across gorges and turbulent rivers for people living in remote areas of the Eastern Cape.



The Ministerial statement makes no specific mention of any bridge type and reliable sources have indicated to defenceWeb the stock of Bailey bridges, first used in the Second World War, is just about non-existent.

In 2017 British company Mabey Bridge was reported to be offering its logistic support bridge product to the SANDF “in view of the fact the South African military is running out of bridges”.

Mabey Bridge evolved from the 1940s Bailey bridge, a portable, prefabricated truss bridge developed by the British in the 1939-1945 conflict. This bridge has features including lightweight construction and erection without needing heavy equipment such as cranes. It is not known whether the SANDF has acquired any Mabey Bridges.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s statement makes no mention of construction commencement date, type of bridge and when it is expected to be finished.

She notes only that the bridge will be constructed as “a matter of urgency” to bring relief to the people of Matatiele.