Ramaphosa sounds the alarm on South Africa’s collapsing infrastructure

 ·24 Jul 2023

President Cyril Ramaphosa says large parts of the country continue to receive poor service delivery due to the failures of public infrastructure.

In his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa said that the country ranks highly on indices published by the African Development Bank that assess the quality of transportation, electricity, ICT and water and sanitation infrastructure, with the nation in to top five countries in Africa with the best public infrastructure.

He added that infrastructure plays a key role in ensuring economic growth and the alleviation of poverty.

However, proper and effective maintenance needs to be conducted for this infrastructure to meet the nation’s development goals, with infrastructure investment decisions having to meet the growing demand and e upgrade properly.

“We have good quality infrastructure, but in far too many instances, it is not being properly maintained and upgraded. Last year, the South African Institution of Civil Engineering gave the country’s social infrastructure a D rating, with E being failed or failing. Passenger rail scored particularly low, achieving an E,” the president said.

“We continue to witness the detrimental consequences of failure to maintain public infrastructure. We are seeing accidents, disease outbreaks and other tragedies that, in a number of instances, have been associated with dilapidated infrastructure.”

For instance, the Department of Water and Sanitation’s latest Blue Drop Watch Report said that the quality of South Africa’s drinking water is worrying.

According to the report, only 38% and 11% of water systems achieved excellent and good microbiological quality, respectively.

This means that 51% of South Africa’s drinking water has poor to bad microbiological water quality status.

Additionally, chemical compliance analyses indicated that only 16% and 14% have excellent and good water quality, respectively. 71% of plants failed to achieve chemical compliance – plants that failed to submit information were awarded zero compliance.

“If drinking water contains unsafe levels of contaminants, it can cause health effects, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, nervous system or reproductive effects, and chronic diseases such as cancer,” the US Environmental Protection Agency said.

What’s causing this

Ramaphosa said that the maintenance of public infrastructure is mainly the responsibility of local government.

He expressed concern that municipalities are failing to spend their allocated grants to maintain and upgrade infrastructure.

National Treasury recently said that slightly more than half of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant was being spent by municipalities, with the grant aimed at upgrading and building new and fixing old infrastructure.

The President said that a part of the issue is that municipalities, particularly smaller municipalities, lack implementation capacity.

Plans to fix it

Despite the issues facing South Africa, Ramaphosa did note that there has still been some success in municipalities spending their allocated grants.

“There are municipalities that are spending conditional grants successfully and timeously. For example, approximately 91% of funding allocated to municipalities to fund reconstruction and rehabilitation after floods in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal was spent by the respective municipalities,” he said.

“This illustrates that with the necessary support, technical assistance, planning and coordination, the problem of municipal underspending on public infrastructure can be overcome.”

The Department of Cooperative Governance, Treasury and the national and provincial government will also help municipalities use their budgets effectively, he said.

“Because of its vital developmental function, we continue to prioritise investment in infrastructure across government. Construction is underway on several bulk water, housing, energy and roads projects.”

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