If South Africa is to have any hope of economic recovery, no sector can afford to do things the way it did before 2020, says the International Zinc Association (IZA).
IZA Africa desk head Simon Norton advances that this is as true for the civil engineering and construction sectors as it is for any other sector.
“Not going back to the way things were does not just mean reconsidering supply chains, staffing and winning new contracts. It means thinking with sustainability and longevity in mind, prioritising long-term gains over short-term profit and understanding that focusing on high standards and excellence in the present will reap large future dividends.”
This is easier said than done – which is why it is useful to look further afield “to learn from our global neighbours on what works, how it works and how to change course if it doesn’t work”, he adds.
Much of the country’s collective time, energy and resources are spent on “patching” infrastructure, rather than addressing the root cause of the problem namely neglect of maintenance and poor design approach.
Norton attributes this mainly to using cheap materials, substandard contractors and the current government tender system which favours the lowest price.
Installing new public infrastructure is an example of how long-term thinking could save money, create jobs and deliver a better outcome overall in South Africa.
“If we were to vigorously promote and require that, in government tenders, most atmospherically exposed steel used for infrastructure projects be galvanised, then we are thinking long term,” he adds.
Galvanised steel structures can provide a life span of at least 50 years in a suitable environment and offer “exceptional performance” at the coast.
Meanwhile, hot dip galvanising is only marginally more costly at the outset, but the savings in terms of long-term maintenance-free service are significant.
“If we can get to a point where our public infrastructure lasts longer than it does currently and requires far less maintenance, the focus can shift to new build projects. These projects will improve the general state of the economy and, by extension, the welfare of South Africans,” notes Norton.
Locally, more than two-million jobs were lost in the second quarter of this year, and the economy, already struggling prior to the Covid-19 crisis, is now under severe strain.
Critically, unemployment is expected to reach an all-time high of 40% in the coming months, as entire industries face collapse.
Norton explains that the country needs a ‘New Deal’ to get people back to work and boost gross domestic product. A local-first approach, he underscores, will be instrumental in achieving this, together with a boost in the manufacturing drive.
To stimulate a virtuous cycle of capital formation, market stimulation and job creation, “we could turn to our nonferrous metal mineral wealth, but not in its raw unprocessed form.