Local communities in Ekhamanzi, just outside Greytown in KwaZulu-Natal, will now be able to reach neighbouring places with ease during rainy seasons.
A partnership between the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, Department of Defence and KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport saw three bridges being constructed in Ekhamanzi.
Prior to the construction of the bridges, the local community, including school children, were unable to cross the flooded old bridges to reach neighbouring areas.
Speaking at the official unveiling of the bridges, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister, Patricia de Lille, said for many years, children, mothers and fathers had to cross dangerous river streams to access basic and important social amenities such as schools, clinics, government offices, and even to get to work.
“It has always been the most heart breaking thing to me when we hear on the news of young children who drown while crossing a river to get to school.
“Early last year, I saw such a sad photo of a young boy crossing a river stream here in this area and it touched me so deeply when I saw the scared look on the boy’s face as he crossed the river without any shoes or trousers,” De Lille said.
De Lille said pupils from Ekhamanzi Primary School have to partially undress in order to cross the river to get to school without wetting their clothes.
“There can be no excuse that 27 years into our democracy that we cannot build bridges for our children and our communities.
“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.
“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.
De Lille said infrastructure is about people having water to drink, decent roads and a bridge to cross to get to school, work and access government services like clinics.
“Infrastructure is about changing people’s lives for the better. 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.
The construction of the bridges in Ekhamanzi is part of the Welisizwe Rural Bridges programme, which was gazetted as a Strategic Integrated Project in July 2020, as part of government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan approved by Cabinet in May 2020.
Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme
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.
The intervention is done through the construction of modular steel bridges.
The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) and the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DOD) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the implementation of the programme.
Subsequently, the DPWI and the KZN Department of Transport (KZN DOT) entered into a MOA on the implementation of the Welisizwe Programme in KwaZulu-Natal.
KwaZulu-Natal was identified as a key area for this intervention following inclement weather conditions caused by severe thunderstorms, which resulted in adverse effects on both human life and property.
DPWI and SANDF undertook technical assessments in the identified potential disaster sites in KwaZulu-Natal, and the KZN DOT committed funds for the installation of 14 bridges in the province.
Two teams from SANDF were deployed in 2020, with DPWI assisting in a coordinating role to install the bridges in Ekhamanzi and other areas within the province.
Since April last year, eight of the 14 bridges have been completed in KwaZulu-Natal.
A community member, Sizakele Mthuzi, told SAnews that with the construction of the bridges, life will be much easier.
“In the past, we used to struggle to cross the river when it is raining. Many drowned while trying to cross the river to get to the other side,” Mthunzi said.
Mthunzi said she is happy that children will now be able to get to school with ease. According to Mthunzi, many children dropped out from school because they were unable to cross the river to get to school.
A learner from Ekhamanzi Primary School, Jabulani Skhakhane, said he is happy that they will no longer have to wade through water to get to school.
Unveiling the new bridges, De Lille was accompanied by her deputy Noxolo Kiviet, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport and dignitaries from other government departments.
Local communities were also present to witness the official opening of the bridges.