Policy hampering transport rebuild

20th January 2023 By: Leah Shelene Asaram - Features Reporter

Zinc is a highly valued metal in the rail and road sector because it is used to coat steel to reduce corrosion and extend the life to replacement of large capital items, says International Zinc Association Africa Desk executive director Simon Norton.

There is an urgent need to rebuild and expand the passenger rail network, especially in Cape Town and Johannesburg, where stations have been looted and stripped for building material and rail links are corroding and suffering from lack of maintenance.

“In Cape Town, four of the five suburban rail links are not operational,” he adds.

While the first phase of the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 addresses energy, freight transport, water and digital communications, it ignores passenger rail transport and the national road system.

“Certainly no new rebuild and expansion of the passenger rail network is evident in the Cape Peninsula or elsewhere in South Africa,” says Norton, who adds that this negates a potentially large-scale demand for zinc locally.

Moreover, he notes that the only large-scale infrastructure programme to have materialised in recent times has been the 2010 FIFA World Cup stadia. There is a dire need for new water and wastewater works across South Africa, using corrosion protected galvanised steel, which would drive zinc usage to new record heights, states Norton.

He says that national government departments lack the capability and commitment to follow through on the promises of the aforementioned programmes.

“Too many projects are undertaken at once and most municipalities are unable to run these projects, owing to their lack of expertise in the respective sectors.”

Norton states that if government tackled infrastructure in smaller parcels, with more manageable outcomes, this would have a cascade effect on the broader economy and on refined zinc demand.

He cites as an example, a potential focus on smaller, but significant, projects, such as the renewal of the Cape Town and Gauteng passenger rail networks, wastewater works and the private provision of power using modern fluidised bed coal-fired combustion, which would precipitate an increase in employment and galvanised steel consumption, and a start in solving the country’s power shortages.

“It is almost impossible to understand why all domestic refuse in our large urban areas is not used in waste-to-power plants, which are prevalent around the world,” he says.

Norton adds that government should investigate the fact that most of the current infrastructure opportunities are being awarded to foreign multinationals.

“The Minister of Public Enterprises and the President should ensure that South African firms, perhaps as part of joint ventures or consortia with interenational firms, are awarded these contracts, thereby ensuring local growth and development.”