Around 2014 Sowetan newspaper reported on the state of Joburg bridges, that commentary applies to any other type of infrastructure in South Africa.
“The report noted that a total of 37 bridges had collapsed under the avalanche of rain season that a total of 37 bridges have collapsed since 2013 during rain seasons.
The newspaper at the time painted a very frightening picture of our bridges – and elsewhere the Integrated Development Plan report painted a grim picture of the Joburg roads.
The Sowetan reported that: “Just 30 (3.33%) of the bridges are in a good condition while only 22 (2.44%) are in a very good condition.”
In simple terms, nine years ago only 6% of our bridges were good enough. From there on the matter was left to fate or to the gods, depending on what you believe in.
After many warnings about the state of bridges in Johannesburg, and across the country, bridges continued to collapse, requiring huge sums of money to repair. The collapse of the Hendrik Potgieter bridge and the resultant closure of the main arterial road linking Krugersdorp to Johannesburg in December 2022 sent shock waves across the West Rand. This has had serious economic impact.
The road is planned for reopening in December 2023.
Also, the rebuilding of the road is supposed to be financed by the Gauteng provincial government. But the relevant ward councillor and the roads department of the City of Johannesburg must keep an eye on all roads and bridges as a package of services to the residents and businesses.
This vigilance was not maintained; the storm water was allowed to undermine the bridge as it was not channelled into proper culverts.
This phenomenon of unmanaged storm water is common all over Gauteng and the country and it creates disasters.
Gauteng bridges have a lifespan of 25 years assuming a certain level of planned and reactive maintenance and refurbishment is maintained.
To fulfil its duties of maintaining a certain level of public service availability the state, including all municipalities and state-owned companies, should release funds for public infrastructure maintenance and a refurbishment plan.
That speaks to the question of the type of people we are, our culture, civilisation and ethics.
Simply put, do we believe we build for the future, or do we believe that everything we build is temporary and we are always ready to start afresh because we do not maintain and refurbish for both continual service and future generations?
Ethically, how seriously do we believe in the safety of all residents, tourists and citizens who use any infrastructure we build and operate as a people.
A pedestrian bridge across a railway line in Johannesburg collapsed last week. If I go over a pedestrian bridge in London, Paris, Singapore, Seoul, Dubai, Kigali or Tokyo, I have no worry that it will collapse. My confidence is buoyed by the fact that these are not nations which build temporary things that can collapse at any time.
In those environments professional ethics matter, national pride matters and public accountability matters. As a result, infrastructure is kept up to standard.
Climate change and environmental mismanagement also call for ongoing refurbishment of infrastructure to cater for new pressures as we have seen in the Western Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal. Infrastructure must always be equal to the task of countering real risks and changing realities.
The 50-year-old Passenger Rail Agency of SA bridge between Jeppe and George Goch railway stations, should have had a fitness certificate relative to its safety for human use.
The City of Johannesburg and ward councillors need to be on the lookout for such lurking dangers. Because a 50-year-old bridge that is not inspected according to schedule is a clear danger.
According to Joburg city MMC for roads and transport Kenny Kunene only 8% of Joburg bridges are good enough, the rest need repairs and refurbishment.
Infrastructure finance specialist must be invited to design ways of funding the long-term maintenance of all infrastructure in the city.
Austerity, incompetence, and general negligence are creating a slum and health hazard out of Joburg which is no longer a leading African city.
Every municipality in SA is required to produce an Integrated Development Plan, in which the city’s future is mapped over the short, medium and long-term.