Owing to the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, unmet basic needs and the demand for service delivery in South Africa’s underdeveloped communities have become increasingly apparent, which has led to awareness of a growing need for infrastructure investment, says engineering consultants WSP Africa MD Mathieu du Plooy.
He points out that there is promise for investment in primary, secondary and tertiary infrastructure developments in the country, and that public- and private-sector infrastructure projects across transport, power, water, healthcare and education will remain significant.
“These projects are vital for the country’s long-term infrastructure objectives, which will, in turn, bode a positive knock-on effect for local communities and industries.”
He mentions that built projects are levers which should be used to drive economic growth: “This is still possible, even in the country’s current economic climate, as the country still offers immense opportunity for investment and infrastructure development.”
However, Du Plooy highlights factors such as reduced government expenditure on large-scale infrastructure projects, as well as uncertainty in the private-sector investment markets and in certain political spheres, as some of the challenges hindering these projects from being implemented.
“While these investments and projects may still be delayed in the short term, there is also a deep-seated understanding in all tiers of society that we cannot afford to halt progress in the country.”
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic having placed significant strain on many communities, businesses and companies, Du Plooy highlights that, as a global company, WSP remains focused on helping “societies thrive in a world we do not control”, particularly in Africa.
“Drawing on our vast experience in providing emergency management services, we have pooled our global resources to increase our capacity of specialised skills. This makes us adept at designing and delivering on projects across healthcare facilities, health, safety and environmental services, as well as planning for resilience. By combining our high-quality technical capabilities with our deep sector expertise, we are well positioned to assist our clients operating across Africa prepare for, respond to and recover from this fast-evolving crisis.”
He adds that WSP is committed to supporting clients to control the spread of Covid-19 while maintaining business continuity, and ensuring the health and safety of communities, employees, colleagues, friends and families.
Du Plooy notes that one particular element that contributes to the company’s successfully working with clients in Africa is its ability to not buy or directly compete with domestic counterparts for project work on the continent. He attributes this to the company’s ability, as a first-tier professional service firm, to provide crucial support services to second- and third-tier providers.
While the African market is fragmented in terms of the presence of smaller professional services firms, he maintains that the first-tier domestic providers are well established.
Further, second- and third-tier providers are fully fledged and capable of delivering a lot of the work required on many projects, he argues. However, companies in these tiers can benefit from having access to sectorial and internationally recognised expertise, which WSP is able to offer.
“For this reason, we continue to work with strong performers, and in most countries across Africa, share opportunities. To ensure we do not dilute our offering, we have spent considerable time on developing local partner relationships that are mutually complementary and sustainable.”
He adds that the company prefers to support local partners with access to critical and expert skills to service projects, particularly if there are extensive international best practices, standards and regulations with which a project must comply.
“We are also dedicated to driving increased opportunities for collaboration, and sharing knowledge and technology, wherever possible, to assist in broadening the knowledge and capacity of our partners.”
Before the impact of Covid-19, the sub-Saharan Africa region was often rated as the fastest urbanising region globally, Du Plooy highlights.
According to pre-Covid predictions in a United Nations report released in 2017, Africa was estimated to reach a collective gross domestic product growth of $2.6-trillion by 2020, and have the largest workforce in the world by 2040.
While the impact of Covid-19 has made those predictions unrealistic, with several key sectors having to deal with an economic slowdown, he maintains that Africa holds the potential to recover well.
“For the growth trajectory to be salvaged, it will be vital for governments and businesses to collaborate and develop recovery plans that take Africa’s unique socioeconomic circumstances into account, and to drive continued progress towards economic inclusion and prosperity for all,” he concludes.