Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia De Lille acknowledged that there can be no excuse for government not to build bridges in communities 27 years into democracy.

“The excuse that there is no money must never be used again when it comes to an intervention that will not only make access to government services easier but will also give our children and people dignity and save lives,” De Lille said during the official opening of bridge in Ekhamanzi in the uMshwathi Local Municipality in KwaZulu Natal this week.

De Lille’s comments come at a time when the spotlight is on the Sane village in Limpopo where residents are forced to carry their children across a river using a makeshift bridge after a pedestrian bridge of questionable quality was swept away during flooding last month.

The National Planning Commission of South Africa also acknowledges the lack of infrastructure in poor communities.

“Many South Africans in poor rural and peri-urban communities struggle to access basic social and economic infrastructure,”

The Commission which was established in May 2010 to develop a long term vision and strategic plan for South Africa also noted that “some municipalities are poorly managed or have limited human and financial resources to deliver services.”

Moms help to carry their young children across the Mufungodi river. A pedestrian bridge which was built earlier this year was swept away by the flooded river last month. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

The Makhado local municipality has promised to build a new bridge which is set to be completed in six months. But parents are worried that a slip or wrong step could have dire results, especially for the children.

“I’m just assisting the younger ones to ensure they cross safely. The children are scared and this affects their concentration in school,” says assistant teacher Zwivhuya Ramathavhana who helps the children to cross the river by carrying them on her back one after the other.

De Lille touched on the issue of children having to cross rivers to get to school in her address.

“There is no justification and excuse for children still having to fight their way through water and risk their lives just to get to school,” she said.

“As the Minister responsible for infrastructure, I have always said that infrastructure is a basic need and a service which all our communities are entitled to,” De Lille said.

Children cross a bridge in Ekhamanzi in the uMshwathi Local Municipality that will significantly improve the community’s access to social amenities such as schools and clinics.  
The Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme is aimed at providing safe access to social amenities and further respond to potential disaster areas and emergency disaster situations. Photo: GCIS

“Infrastructure is not just about cold, hard buildings but if we look deeper, we can see that as with the case of these bridges, infrastructure is about reversing the legacy of our apartheid pass [t] by giving people access and dignity.

“Infrastructure is about people having water to drink, decent roads and a bridge to cross to get to school, to work or access government services like clinics. Infrastructure is about changing people’s lives for the better.”

She said “infrastructure is about giving people dignity, it is about giving people access to opportunities for education and work, it is about improving the socio-economic conditions in our communities and eliminating barriers for our people to get where they need to get safely so that they can succeed and make a meaningful contribution to our country.

De Lille said four bridges have also been completed in Mangwenya while another bridge is also nearing completion in Amanzimtoti and another bridge in Mthoqotho is half way through construction.

“Through this project, we have also been able to provide much needed jobs for local residents through the Expanded Public Works Programme with 40 participants recruited for the Ekhamanzi project, 60 participants for the Mthoqotho bridge and 20 participants for the Amanzimtoti project,” she said.

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