The National Development Plan (NDP) notes that to “achieve sustainable and inclusive growth by 2030, South Africa needs to invest in a strong network of economic infrastructure”. And, as we are a little more than a decade away from the targets set for 2030, now is the time to take stock of investments to date, current and planned infrastructure projects.
The need for infrastructure investment and development has not gone away. In fact, it is more apparent than ever – built projects are levers which should be used to drive growth within the economy. I believe that this is still possible, even in the country’s current economic climate, and that South Africa still offers immense opportunity for investment and infrastructure development.
What we need, however, is a change in focus to leverage on opportunities that will show immediate economic contributions in the short-term, without compromising their adaptability to incorporate new technologies. In this way, we could effectively future proof the country’s infrastructure networks and ensure an attainable long-term vision of sustainable and inclusive growth.
Building confidence in the new guard
Despite wide-felt market optimism, there seems to remain some reservations within the private sector on how the country will fair under the new leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
There are a number of influencing factors causing the private sector to be ‘a bit shy to invest, right now’. Political and environmental uncertainty, reduced planned expenditure by government on large scale infrastructure projects, and the stretched balance sheets of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) - which also continue to come under public scrutiny – are all contributors.
That being said, there are investors keen to develop and get involved in projects across the country. Overall, the private sector needs stability – which will come from clear government policy and leadership – in order to feel confident about investing. The market is eagerly awaiting clarity on some key policy issues and the new guard’s turnaround strategies for the SOEs.
Regional integration to deliver on opportunities and projects
In my view, we are not leveraging on regionally integrated opportunities within the Southern Africa or SADC region to stimulate mutually beneficial opportunities and growth as well as we could be.
If we look just within the power industry, for example, there is a huge concentration of investment in power projects in South Africa to grow the country’s power outputs. Therefore, within the SADC region, focus could be placed on developing trade corridors and investing in building transmission and distribution lines to transport the power – rather than each country looking to invest in power infrastructure development independently.
Some progress towards this is being achieved by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), which is currently driving a number of transmission interconnector projects. These projects link or strengthen power interconnections between various countries in the SADC region, with the intention to create a large power pool that will offer countries with a power deficit the facility to import power, and those with excess power the options for exporting their surplus energy.
Similarly, regional cooperation and collaboration can play an enormous role in developing a robust gas-to-power industry that currently does not exist in Southern Africa.
For instance, as Mozambique sits on the precipice of major infrastructure projects around its gas fields – from gas-to-power stations, transmission and distribution lines between the north and south side of the country, and pipelines to export gas assets – South Africa is ideally placed to support the development of these projects.
To put this in context, as Medupi and Kusile Power Stations have come online, there is a substantive contingent of skilled people who need to be mobilised. Currently, investment into and development of mega power infrastructure projects in South Africa – whether coal, gas or nuclear base-load generation plans – is on hold. Without a continuation of projects in the country, we face a very real risk of losing these crucial skills as these professionals seek valuable employment opportunities in other markets.
Through improved regional collaboration between Mozambique and South Africa, South African skilled professionals could bring their experience to work on the projects in Mozambique, not only to help build the gas industry but to transfer needed major infrastructure project skills to local teams. If done correctly this will enable upskilling within the neighbouring country, developing regional expertise to deliver on these projects as a priority.
Additionally, looking at these projects collectively and as part of a regionally integrated plan - rather than looking at each project in isolation – will support the development of the gas-to-power industry within South Africa, thus supporting the co-creation of a regional industry.