The pivotal importance of infrastructure

Public and private investments in vital infrastructure are creating a platform for increased investment into the Northern Cape.

The Sishen circle has been widened. Credit: SANRAL

Investments have been flowing steadily into the Northern Cape as mining and renewable energy projects pique the interest of domestic and international companies. To maintain and accelerate that flow, national, provincial and local government is pouring resources into constructing new infrastructure.

This includes digital infrastructure. The Northern Cape Provincial Government has been actively pursuing a digital strategy to expand access to the Internet. Examples of successful rollouts include free WiFi hotspots at all youth centres and 91% penetration of connectivity at the province’s health facilities. Private companies are doing their bit too, as telecoms operators Vodacom and MTN redouble their efforts to extend the range and quality of their signals across South Africa’s biggest province. More details appear in the ICT overview of the 2024/25 edition of Northern Cape Business, the annual guide to business and investment in the province.

The decision by Colossal Concrete Products to bring the precast concrete factory in De Aar back to life is a significant boost for infrastructure in the province. As the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gwen Mahuma-Madida, said at the ribbon-cutting in October 2023, “Africa is rich in natural resources, but much-needed growth and progress are often hampered by lack of finance and the required infrastructure. Colossal Concrete Products understands the pivotal importance of infrastructure development and the impact that this has on the economic development of any country.”

With a brief from Transnet Freight Rail to make railway sleepers, Colossal Concrete Products will also be looking to expand into the renewable energy sector (wind towers) and the construction sector more broadly.

Colossal Concrete Products is making precast concrete at De Aar. Credit: Colossal Concrete Products

Presenting the provincial budget in 2024, Finance MEC Abraham Vosloo allocated R20-billion to health and R25-billion to education in a budget of R68-billion. These social services are the main responsibility of this level of government. Provincial priorities are health facilities, schools, roads, housing, energy, water and sanitation. As Northern Cape Premier Dr Zamani Saul says, “Infrastructure investment is the backbone of a thriving economy.”

Two public infrastructure property projects that will be tackled in 2024 are a R30-million renovation of Mayibuye Centre and a R10-million upgrade for the AR Abbass stadium in Kimberley.

Municipalities can receive help in rolling out infrastructure through the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) programme. A Public Infrastructure Unit Cost Guideline has been developed by the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) to help municipalities control expenditure of MIG money.

Special Economic Zones

One of the most important types of infrastructure in the Northern Cape is Special Economic Zones. Generous incentives and rebates make investing in these SEZs attractive, as does the spinoff effect achieved from the clustering of companies in related fields.

The Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDaT) has supplied articles for the 2024/25 edition of Northern Cape Business, highlighting the special focus of each of the Namakwa Special Economic Zone (with Vedanta Zinc International as the core tenant), the Upington Industrial Park, the Kathu Industrial Park, the De Aar Logistics Hub and the Boegoebaai Special Economic Zone, Deepwater Port and Green Hydrogen Cluster.

The Northern Cape, as a dry province that relies heavily on agriculture, has adopted a Northern Cape Climate Change Adaptation Response Strategy. This allows for a framework to tackle climate change issues. Floods, droughts and fires are becoming more frequent and more severe; planning can at least mitigate the negative outcomes to some extent.

Other support for agriculture will come in the form of infrastructure at the Upington Industrial Park, which will act as a services centre for road, rail and air transport, agriculture, agro-processing and manufacturing.

Farmers and agro-processors are increasingly drawing attention to the need for good roads for the delivery of their products to market and they will be hoping that these parks will help to provide the necessary infrastructure.

In a similar vein, the Namakwa SEZ in Aggeneys will become an industrial cluster for mining and agriculture services, beneficiation and manufacturing.

The Boegoebaai Port and Green Hydrogen Cluster has the potential to be transformative, especially as it might signal a real and significant step towards the establishment of a green hydrogen market in South Africa, and therefore a step towards a cleaner, greener energy environment.

Roads

National roads agency SANRAL has taken over responsibility for several “strategic” roads that used to fall under the provincial government. This handover happened in 2023 and takes SANRAL’s responsibility in the province to 4 409km.

SANRAL announced a R14-billion three-year plan for the province’s roads in the same year, covering maintenance and improvements.

The N14 highway is an important element of the infrastructure of the province. Also known as the Industrial Development Corridor and passing through the Kathu Industrial Park, the N14 runs from Springbok to Pretoria, crossing the Orange River at Upington and providing the main connection between the various existing and proposed industrial parks and SEZs in the province.

SANRAL’s most recent work on the N14 involves a R60-million upgrading of three intersections between Olifantshoek and Kathu. This included increasing the size of roundabouts to allow for wider turning circles and improved traffic flow. This was in response to growing numbers of heavy vehicles passing through the Kathu South circle every day.

The following roads-related projects also serve to provide employment opportunities: Valazonke Projects, a labour-intensive programme to fix potholes; Welisizwe Programme, construction of rural bridges; S’hamba Sonke Projects, road maintenance on secondary and rural roads.

The Operation Vala Zonke programme had fixed 23 334 potholes at the time of the Premier’s State of the Province in February 2024. In addition, a pothole-fixing programme forms part of the curriculum of the staff taken on by the newly established Northern Cape Construction Company. In the course of studying for a Road Construction Level 3 learnership offered by the Construction Education & Training Authority (CETA), the group’s pothole repairs made a difference to the state of the local roads.

Water

The Vaal Gamagara Water Supply Scheme (VGWSS) was originally built to supply water to the semi-arid areas of Kalagadi. It has been expanded to supply to the Dikgatlong, Tsantsabane, Gamagara and Joe Morolong municipalities and nearby mines and farmers.

Water infrastructure is being installed where it is needed most. GIC engineers laying pipes in Kathu. Credit: GIC

The first phase of an upgrading and replacement project of a 75 km between Roscoe and Blackrock has been completed, benefiting about 6 000 households, mines, municipalities, farmers and Transnet. However, the VGWSS has struggled to keep up with demand.

Minerals Council South Africa reports that more than 20 mining companies are paying a premium compared to other users for water in the scheme towards a capital-raising fee to pay for the second phase of the VGWSS.

So far R268-million has been raised from the premium and it is ringfenced for the second phase of the pipeline upgrades, which includes upgrading the 260 km pipeline between the Vaal River extraction point and Roscoe near Kathu.

The Northern Cape’s biggest town and provincial capital, Kimberley, has been facing infrastructure challenges for some time, particularly regarding water provision.

National Treasury has approved funding of R2.5-billion through its Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) for the Sol Plaatje Municipality to repair and upgrade water infrastructure and to improve water quality.