SA Army engineers have completed construction of a life changing bridge over the Xume River that enables access to a clinic and schools during the rainy season.
The new bridge, near the rural Eastern Cape village of Xume near Queenstown, has been hailed by residents as ‘God-sent’.
The bridge is one of three being constructed in the region, and is part of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) realignment to meet the needs of a developmental state, Department of Defence head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini says.
Last month, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said the military had the necessary skills to help build the country. “We have more than 200 personnel in the full spectrum of engineering, from road building to dam and bridge construction and architecture,” Dlamini adds.
Thirty-two members 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 within a week.
On Friday, while the soldiers laid an engraved stone in front of the bridge to mark its completion, excited locals started using the bridge for the first time, Dlamini says.
“The soldiers watched in delight as adults, children and even horses made their way over the bridge.” Later, a five-ton army truck also crossed the bridge, showing locals just how strong the structure was.
“We want to thank the army for building this bridge. Before, people lost their lives trying to cross the river. Life will be so much easier now,” said Nosandise Ndabula, one of the women who used the bridge for the first time to attend the Xume clinic.
Pupils in the area also thanked the Defence Force, saying they sometimes couldn’t get to a primary and secondary school because the river was too full. Other times, when they were able to cross, they ended up drenched.
Lutho Gcado, a pupil at the Xume Junior Primary School, said: ”The pupils will be able to get to school without their clothes and books becoming wet”.
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.