OPINION

Mark the decline of South Africa

William Saunderson-Meyer |

November 18, 2022

William Saunderson-Meyer writes on the SAICE bulletin on the state of the country’s infrastructure

JAUNDED EYE

South Africa is in the first convulsions of an economic double whammy.

Just when the collapse of critical infrastructure – power, water, sewage, roads and railways – appears to be approaching a tipping point, the skills and expertise needed to salvage the situation have become extremely scarce. The country is in the throes of a brain drain that rivals and may even exceed the exodus that accompanied the political upheavals of the 1960s and mid-1980s.

The South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE) Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) 2022, released this week, is a chilling warning that the collapse of public infrastructure has reached such a stage that unless be dealt with immediately, we risk becoming a failed state.

About half of South Africa’s public infrastructure has collapsed or is on the verge of collapse. However, as the country’s engineering capacity has eroded at a staggering rate over the past decade, the expertise needed to save the day is simply no longer available.

Engineers, with their innate belief that what can be designed can be built, are innate optimists. On the contrary, SAICE underestimates the seriousness of the situation.

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The bulletin covers 32 infrastructure sub-sectors. There is only one A (an A is defined as world class; in excellent condition and well maintained, with the ability to withstand the pressure of unusual events), the Gautrain network.

There are seven B’s (perfect for the future; in good condition and properly maintained). They are attributed to the national road network, the nine main airports belonging to the airports corporation, the nine commercial ports of Transnet, the nine proclaimed fishing ports of the country, the national network of oil and gas pipelines, the transmission network of ‘Eskom and information and communication technologies in South Africa. Infrastructure.

The averaging effect of the CRI scoring method puts a bit of shine on the image that hides potentially crippling flaws. It’s easy to forget that infrastructure systems are interdependent, and the failure of a critical component in one can trigger a cascade of failures elsewhere.

For example, failures of a few key components of Eskom’s production infrastructure over the past year have left South Africa, experts warn, dangerously close to a total national blackout that would be economically crippling and could last for weeks. And repeated Eskom load shedding has also, despite Gauteng’s dams reaching record capacity, meant that Johannesburg has been unable to pump enough water to replenish urban reservoirs, depriving large swaths of the city ​​of water for weeks.