The sight of schoolchildren crossing swelling and dangerous rivers in the country’s rural areas is expected to be a thing of the past, thanks to the R3.3 billion budget allocated to build 134 Welisizwe bridges in six provinces.
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala made the announcement during the launch of Welisizwe bridges construction project on Friday.
The Welisizwe bridges project is a government initiative aimed at addressing the backlog of bridges infrastructure in rural and disadvantaged communities.
The bridges will improve communities’ access to health facilities, schools and economic amenities.
The project involves the Public Works and Infrastructure Department, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and provincial Transport Departments.
Zikalala said R1.1 billion will be spent per year in the Eastern Cape - which is the pilot for Welisizwe Bridges Programme, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West.
The programme targets rural provinces where there is a backlog in the construction of bridges and a threat of life during rainy seasons.
“Welisizwe Bridges not only makes access possible to many communities, but also is labour intensive, creating a number of working opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).
“A number of skills like welding, ground work and soil retention are transferred to the workers. Each bridge site has seven SANDF members who oversee all the projects, five artisans and 40 EPWP workers,” Zikalala said.
The launch was held at two construction sites in Port St Johns, Eastern Cape.
Accompanied by the Eastern Cape Transport MEC Xolile Nqatha and Port St Johns Local Municipality Mayor, Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo, Zikalala visited the sites of the Sunrise and Ntlenga bridges, which are 50% complete.
“The Department of Defence (SA Army) has committed to providing assistance with regards to construction vehicles, construction machine operators, artisans and the expansion of the Military Temporary Bases where necessary.
“Since the programme is expected to deliver 48 legacy bridges plus 96 bridges initially announced by the President for the 2023/24 financial year, phased construction will take place simultaneously at all bridge sites with augmented resources to a total of 100 bridges in all six provinces,” Zikalala explained.
The Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme was initiated to respond to emergency situations in relation to river-crossings. In 2020, Cabinet supported the Welisizwe Implementation Model. The programme was gazetted in July 2020 as Strategic Integrated Project (SIP) No 25 as part of the Infrastructure Development Stimulus Package to boost the economy.
Planned ctheonstruction of bridges in the MTEF 2023/24 -2025/26 is as follows:
- 48 bridges in each of the six provinces, totalling 288 bridges by end of 2025/2026 financial year.
- Job opportunities in each province in one financial year will be: 64 artisans, 960 EPWP participants, 21 graduates, totalling 1045. A total of 6270 job opportunities will be created per financial year.
- 17280 job opportunities will be created in the MTEF
- 510 training opportunities will be created in the MTEF