Sipho Mahlangu on infrastructure projects

01 October 2014 | Sipho Mahlangu | Opinion

South African companies committed about R7.8-billion to corporate social investment (Social Investment) in 2013.

Half of this spend comes from just 31 companies – mainly in the mining, financial services and retail sectors. Economic conditions have been tough last year and this year, but companies have managed to increase their Social Investment spend.

Mining companies spend, on average, R62m on Social Investment initiatives, often on infrastructure projects in areas around their operations. Infrastructure investment means more than buildings; part of improving the levels of quality in education and health is providing infrastructure that responds to global needs in terms of skills, technology and sports.

One of the critical success factors to the growth of the South African economy is infrastructure investment. Key areas of government expenditure, which account for more than half of total public sector infrastructure investment and incorporate all spheres, are: provincial and local roads, bulk water infrastructure and water supply networks, energy distribution, housing, schools and clinics, business centres, sports facilities and multi-purpose government service centres, including police stations, courts and correctional facilities.

This is still, to a large extent, catering to the basic needs of previously disadvantaged communities in rural areas and townships, which represent the majority of the population in South Africa.

South Africa, as a developing economy, needs to start responding to the pressures of being a global player by producing the highest levels of quality in education and health as one of its primary objectives. Part of improving these levels of quality is providing infrastructure that responds to global needs in terms of skills, technology, sports, etc. In the case of education, much focus has been on eradicating classrooms under trees and on providing sanitation in schools.

Through co-ordinated partnerships with government, business is able to offer much-needed support to this part of its Social Investment initiatives. Examples are the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund and the De Beers Fund, both in partnership with the Limpopo Department of Education through the Rural Schools Programme.

In 2010, this programme was able to provide not only classrooms but water-borne sanitation, water tanks and boreholes, science laboratories, libraries, computer centres, cooking areas and administration blocks. With these facilities, children can focus on learning, teachers are afforded a good working environment and cooking for children is done in hygienic environments.

The next step of the programme could be to provide actual equipment for the facilities provided. i.e. Computers, laboratory equipment, projectors, etc. This would ensure that even a school in the most rural part of Limpopo Province would be able to access the World Wide Web, perform experiments and embark on research projects, among other things.

However, infrastructure alone is not a complete solution without capacity-building among teachers and parents. In most cases, a school’s success is dependent on the involvement of parents in their children’s education, as well as the ability of the education system to support the teachers.

Leadership is the single biggest success factor in a school; therefore, principals and school governing bodies need serious development interventions if South African schools are to compete at a global level. These interventions, thus, need to be part of the deliverables when embarking on infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects in this context should include the social aspects of that particular environment as project success factors, and not just a building.

There is still a great need to monitor these investments. Monitoring, evaluation and review will play a key role in informing the formulation of further strategies in response to the developmental needs of the South African economy.

The goal in education should be to have all schools in South Africa as whole schools, where a child is able to develop academically, socially and physically in interactive classrooms, labs, lecture halls, art studios, libraries, theatre halls and sports fields.