Take inspiration from sporting success to build sustainable infrastructure for generations

Many new sports stadiums like the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban were built in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. A similar effort needs to be employed on developing the nation's decaying infrastructure.

South Africa needs to use the inspiration of recent sporting success to address the nation’s key infrastructure challenges, says Consulting Engineers South Africa CEO Chris Campbell.

Amidst the recent awe-inspiring accomplishments of our South African athletes, who have united the nation under the banner of excellence, it is imperative that we channel this unity and collective will towards addressing one of our nation’s most pressing challenges – infrastructure development.

Just as Banyana Banyana (the South Africa women’s football team), the Proteas netball team, para swimmer Kat Swanepoel and our rugby team have showcased the strength of unity, our collective efforts can propel us towards a brighter future, where sustainable infrastructure serves as the foundation for prosperity that benefits all.

Infrastructure, the lifeline of a functioning society, lies at the heart of our national progress. Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) recognises the vital importance of sustainable infrastructure in shaping our economic growth, enhancing the quality of life of our citizens and securing our nation’s future. As we revel in the achievements of our athletes, it’s crucial to acknowledge the immense positive impact that well-planned and resilient infrastructure can have on our society.

Far-reaching consequences of failing infrastructure

Decaying infrastructure has far-reaching negative consequences, undermining both economic growth and societal wellbeing. Inadequate basic services impede commercial and public investment, hindering the potential for a thriving economy. To provide access to healthcare, education and opportunities for all, we must first ensure access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation and functional transportation systems. The recent gas explosion in Johannesburg’s Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) starkly illuminated the need for better understanding and maintenance of our urban infrastructure.

This incident underscores the importance of documentation and technical expertise in ensuring the safety and efficiency of our cities. It also reveals a wider challenge – a shortage of technical skills among professionals and artisans alike. The lack of investment in trade schools and vocational education has left us with an aging workforce and a dearth of skilled individuals capable of maintaining and improving our infrastructure systems.

While the challenges are substantial, a focused and systematic approach can yield tangible solutions. It’s imperative that we prioritise key areas for intervention, directing resources and expertise to areas where they can make a significant impact. By addressing critical issues one step at a time, we can steadily overcome the immense obstacles in our path.

Comprehensive plan needed

Yet, these solutions demand a comprehensive plan that transcends political boundaries and policies that may have contributed to the deterioration in the first place. In this context, power utility Eskom looms large (four of South African state utility Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power plants were recently found to be breaching government emissions regulations), an issue that demands thoughtful analysis and reform to reverse the damage inflicted by mismanagement and corruption. Eskom’s challenges are indicative of a broader problem in our nation’s administration and planning, which must be addressed to secure our fundamental wellbeing.

Lessons drawn from this experience should be used to prevent a similar crisis in our water sector, where similar ills are already evident. We cannot be seen to be “kicking this can down the road” as well, until such time that we find the phrase “water shedding” becoming part of our daily lives and in the vocabulary of our children and grandchildren across the country.

Temporary water tanks and tankers, which have become permanent owing to corruption, arguably linked to the deliberate sabotage and neglect of functioning water infrastructure, needs to be rooted out. Public-private partnerships are imperative if we are to restore the functioning and capacity of countless water treatment plants, which are currently not functional. Let us indeed be serious about declaring a ‘war on leaks’, where these losses of potable water continue unabated for months on end, have grown from around 30% and is now edging closer to 40%.

Build sustainable infrastructure to stand the test of time

We must be reminded that greatness is achieved through unity and collaboration and rally together to build resilient and sustainable infrastructure that will stand the test of time and serve generations to come. Building a nation must be characterised by the excellence of its infrastructure, enabling prosperity and opportunity for all.

Let us harness the spirit of ‘Stronger Together’ not only in our sporting endeavours but also in our efforts to construct a future that is defined by sustainable infrastructure, economic growth and shared prosperity. Together, we can rise above our challenges and ensure that the legacy we leave for future generations is one of progress, resilience and enduring unity – and importantly sustainable infrastructure that serves the needs of our ever-growing population.

Chris Campbell is the CEO of Consulting Engineers South Africa, the business association which represents around 600 consulting engineering firms that provide planning, design and project delivery services across all engineering disciplines in South Africa.