A common phenomenon that occurs on South African roads when water erodes the soil under paving and the weight of traffic travelling above collapses the poorly supported surface.

Say what you want about Trump, but his Infrastructure Week – that was devised to divert attention from former FBI director James Comey’s testimony – was kind of a hit. The term was so catchy that Trump’s Whitehouse successor even referenced it when signing a “once in a generation” investment package a couple of years later.  

With Mzansi’s infrastructure hitting record lows in 2022, we’re in desperate need of our own infrastructure week intervention.

Sixteen years ago, the first Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) gave local infrastructure an overall grade of D+. The next IRC (2011) noted that the heavy investments in new infrastructure for the 2010 Soccer World Cup had elevated the overall grade to C-.

It was cautioned that this apparent improvement was not cause for complacency. In the following years, it became evident that the poor attitude to maintenance had continued, and this was reflected in the downturn in the subsequent grade to D+ in 2017.

In 2022, the overall grade for South Africa’s public infrastructure declined further to D, the lowest grade ever recorded by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

A D rating means that the infrastructure is not coping with normal demand and is poorly maintained, with risks of any incidents having severe impacts on operations.

When rail services are inadequate, commerce shifts to the roads, even at a cost premium.

“Consequently, when public infrastructure is inadequate or unreliable, the resulting disruptions occur at a net cost to the fiscus and weaken the developmental role of the State. Broadly speaking, it is evident that, with the exception of energy generation, economic infrastructure remains in a satisfactory condition – even those assets that have deteriorated, such as heavy freight rail and airports, maintain grades of B or C,” SAICE explained in the statement.

“However, the further degradation of social infrastructure paints a dismal picture of the plight that ordinary people face to access basic services of water, sanitation, health, education, public transport and electricity. Altogether, the situation cries out for urgent and sustained attention.”

At the close of 2022 Hendrik Potgieter road in Little Falls collapsed causing traffic mayhem for road users, this was following the heavy rains. Kilburn Street and Wilgerood Road in Roodepoort also collapsed and were closed.

Image taken from South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

Roads in Johannesburg are particularly vulnerable, with some roads over 70 years old. The number of potholes needing to be filled has grown from 4,000 a month to 6,000. The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) has made road maintenance a top priority, but requires R150 million to attend to roads damaged by recent rains.

The National Treasury released the 2022/23 Medium Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework (MTREF). It entails the operating and capital budgets of municipalities as adopted by their respective councils. These budgets give an overview of expected revenue and expenditure trends in local government over the next three years.

In a media statement it said that municipalities are not adequately providing for repairs and maintenance while they are not prioritising renewal and upgrading of existing assets.

“This is evident in the reported service delivery failures due to ageing infrastructure and lack of maintenance. Therefore, investment in existing infrastructure and repairs and maintenance must be informed by the condition of the assets regardless of the provided norms,” said the Treasury.

“Some infrastructure assets have deteriorated to the extent that spending 40 percent of capital expenditure on renewal and upgrading of existing infrastructure is not sufficient to ensure sustainable service delivery. Furthermore, the condition of other assets has deteriorated beyond repairs and maintenance and requires replacement.”

By the numbers

The aggregated budgeted revenue for 2022/23 is R530 billion, which is expected to increase to R558 billion in 2023/24 and R594 billion in 2024/25.

For the year 2022/23, however, capital expenditure budget reflects a R44 billion investment in new infrastructure which is 63 percent of the total aggregated capital budget. Investment in the renewal and upgrading of existing assets is much lower at R11 billion (16 percent) and R15 billion (22 percent) of the total capital budget respectively; and reporting on operational repairs and maintenance figures has been institutionalised as part of Section 71 in-year reporting.

This shows that not much of the budget has gone into the maintenance of infrastructure.

Municipalities allocated R28 billion to repairs and maintenance of assets in 2022/23. This will increase to R29 billion in 2023/24 and to R31 billion in 2024/25.

For full infrastructure gradings visit Infrastructure Report Card.

Featured image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin/Unsplash