Defence is to assist the national Department of Public Works in the construction of about 30 new low-cost bridges in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the North West provinces.
Minister of Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde noted that in light of the heavy rains and flooding across the country, the department deemed it fit to approve the building of the bridges. “It is a tragedy that more than 300 children in the Chris Hani municipality have to cross a river every day just to get to school. This means that in the absence of a bridge and with all the heavy rains recently experienced, these children were unable to get to school,” Mahlangu-Nkabinde said after a meeting between her and public works MECs from the nine provinces.
The cooperation follows South African Army engineers assembling three surplus Bailey bridges in the Eastern Cape in December 2009 and January last year. Thirty-two sappers of the SA Engineer Corps, mostly from 35 Engineer Support Regiment in Dunnottar in Springs in Eastern Gauteng, set up camp near the Xume River and completed the bridge there within a week.
The Bailey bridge is a truss bridge manually assembled by connecting panels end to end. An US Army manual states it “is used in forward areas to replace assault bridging and the MGB. The Bailey bridge system is highly labour intense but also highly versatile. In some cases, the Bailey bridge is the only tactical bridge suitable for long spans and heavy loads because it can be assembled in multiple heights and widths.
The Bailey bridge, designed by Sir Donald Bailey, was adopted in early 1941 and used in every theatre of the World War Two. The quintessential Bailey was the “Springbok” bridge, built in seven days by SA Engineers over the River Po at Pontelagasco, Italy, in May 1945, using 1900mt of parts requiring 629 3-ton lorry loads. At 305 metres, it was the longest Bailey bridge constructed during that conflict.
The Army Engineers’ involvement follows an announcement by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in July 2009 that the SANDF would assist other government departments facing skills shortages. Sisulu in November that year said the cancellation of a multi-billion rand contract to buy eight Airnbus Military A400M transport aircraft would free resources for a plan she had with cooperative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka to help with service delivery. The Sunday Times reported that Sisulu had told it she had plans for a “radical reorientation of the defence force”.
Sisulu said “she had scrapped the secret defence review that was waiting for her when she arrived, but promised to submit the new one to Parliament’s defence committee early next year and to encourage public involvement in shaping a new military mandate,” the paper added. “The new administration has come with new priorities and the review has to take that on board. We have to restructure the way we think of defence so we can contribute to the growth in jobs, to the development of the country,” Sisulu told the Sunday Times.