LETTER TO THE EASTERN CAPE MEC OF TRANSPORT

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Ms W Tikana-Gxothiwe

MEC: Transport, Safety & Liaison

P/B X0057

BISHO

5605

Dear Honourable MEC

Unsafe and Collapsing Bridge at Tsengiwe Location, Cala, Eastern Cape

It is with the utmost respect that I am writing you this letter just over 12 years since the aftermath of the bridge tragedy that occurred at Tsengiwe Location, Cala, in the Eastern Cape. The tragedy, in which a number of lives were lost on that fateful morning of 18 November 2008, one had hoped, would have been a wakeup call to those entrusted with ensuring that such avoidable tragedies do not ever recur.  Unfortunately, for some of us, the future remains an abstract concept as we show a remarkable ability to forget past disasters, or minimise their imagined impact. One of the lessons from tragic events is that there are always gaps between what we know, what we do, and why things go wrong, as was demonstrated by the bridge failure on that fateful day in November 2008.

I have just been to my home at Tsengiwe Location, Cala, for my Aunt’s funeral, and the first thing I noticed as I was driving home from town, is the poor state of the access road, a road which in 2019 had supposedly undergone major repair work. The real shock was when I had to drive through the same bridge which on that fateful morning in November 2008 cost the lives of a number of local residents. What shocked me most was that the bridge has deteriorated to nothing more than a death trap, a disaster waiting to happen particularly in the context of the current rainy season, notwithstanding the viral pandemic that locals have to contend with.

The sight of such callousness on the part of those who are entrusted with ensuring that there is adequate infrastructure for the community has remained etched on my mind. For me, the failure not to have a proper bridge constructed during the time that the road was being resurfaced and supposedly repaired/upgraded a mere two years ago constitutes partial or ‘silo’ thinking. This lack of ‘joined-up’ thinking and inertia constitute a lost opportunity as the tragedy, with foresight had presented an opportunity to take stock of the state of infrastructure within the district as part of a holistic approach as well as a broad socioeconomic strategy that recognise the value of strong governmental investment in infrastructure in support of the economy.

Bridges serve as links, they connect people and communities, and therefore contribute to our personal well-being, welfare and quality life. They can help whole regions to develop socially and economically. Thus the immediate aftermath of the tragedy presented an opportunity for the municipality to conduct a critical assessment of both the state of local roads and bridges in order to map out a plan and a strategy to upgrade these as part of rural infrastructure development.

The aftermath of the tragic event should have set in motion a drive to conduct an inspection and audit of all the bridges within all the locations, some of which are archaic as most of them are much older than sixty years, as part of a drive towards modernisation of rural infrastructure. Such an approach would have to be located within the context of sustainable local and regional economic development requiring a coordinated holistic approach, while recognising that our rural areas including towns and villages have a key role in supporting economic development.  Views of communities could have been solicited on crossing points requiring bridge construction, as well as on the possibility of constructing an alternate bridge instead of continuing to use the one posing a significant risk to the community.

Modernisation of road infrastructure has to be seen in the broad context of local and regional economic development, not in isolation as a stand-alone endeavour to be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion just like the issue of repairing collapsing bridges. The objective is to improve connectivity that will support the network of towns and their associated rural hinterlands for access to services and economic opportunities. Thus the overarching aim should be to develop road and rural infrastructure which promote equitable access and meet wider economic and social requirements, while limiting environmental impact. Thus with a little foresight the tragedy presented an opportunity not only to prevent future occurrence of similar tragic events but for initiating meaningful socioeconomic changes through investment in local infrastructure development.

This is what has prompted me to bring this to your attention in your official capacity as the person responsible for Transport, and Safety in the Province.

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