Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr – an American astronaut, naval aviator, and test pilot – entered space thanks to the booster energy of a controlled explosion underneath him. “Imagine his thoughts, knowing that those boosters had been built by the lowest bidder for the contract?” These were the opening remarks of Sam Amod – the keynote speaker for a recent webinar held by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).
His astronaut analogy made it clear to attendees the value and importance of prioritising long-term quality over short-term financial considerations when looking at infrastructure development and national asset maintenance. Amod is a SAICE Honorary Fellow and SAICE Past President, and he headed the informative webinar which was aimed at students, recognising the importance of involving young people in discussions about the future of our country.
The event was chaired by SAICE’s Karabo Mohlamme, who welcomed attendees. “I remember, when as a student, I encountered the (SAICE) Infrastructure Report Card and was overwhelmed with the monumental amount of work and coordination that goes into preparing these reports. Our discussion today aims to enlighten and engage our young engineers about the state of our infrastructure, and the way forward.” The event unpacked the cornerstones of asset management for public infrastructure in South Africa, with Amod’s presentation titled ’Patch and Pray; Is that our asset management strategy?’
Understanding asset management is critical to enable the development of infrastructure that underpins the country’s socio-economic development, as well as in the careers of infrastructure professionals. “While our national strategy isn’t always to ‘Patch and Pray’, it is certainly a common approach as we struggle to maintain infrastructure in a methodical and regular manner,” said Amod.
He detailed the state of South Africa’s infrastructure based on the SAICE Infrastructure Report Card, where much of our infrastructure is deemed to be at risk of failure, or unfit for use. “Water and sanitation is one of our most pressing issues, where our rural infrastructure is not able to cater for our people. This is dangerous, as we have learnt how vital clean water is for keeping our communities healthy,” said Amod.
“Most of our infrastructure, on average, is average at best. Much of it is unfit for purpose. So, what is our relationship with infrastructure?” When the audience was polled on what is holding South Africa back from possessing quality infrastructure, the majority (40%) said it was because of high levels of corruption, 25% said it was due to abuse by users, and 21% stated it was due to low funding. Interestingly, only 9% thought it was because there are too few professionals in the industry.
What does South Africa need to correct our situation? Amod said it came down to three core elements. “Firstly, we need good public-private sector relationships and knowledgeable professionals. Secondly, we need institutions which are properly governed with a strong culture. Lastly, we need data and information about our infrastructure so that we can make the right decisions.”
“When it comes to maintaining our assets, we already have the biggest asset we need. As civil engineers, we have the trust of our society. It is in your hands, and it is time for the civil engineering industry to step up,” concluded Amod.
This webinar was the first instalment of a series of webinars aimed at SAICE’s student members, and can be watched online here.