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Investment in social infrastructure is a catalyst for tackling socio-economic challenges

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille visiting an infrastructure project in Cape Town. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille visiting an infrastructure project in Cape Town. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 24, 2022


By Onkabetse Chaane Moiloa

23 June is celebrated as International Day for Women in Engineering. On this day, we have to think about advancing regenerative and collaboration processes to ensure sustainability within the built engineering sector through investment in public infrastructure. The focus should be on the importance of social infrastructure in the overall development of societies.

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According to the PriceWaterHouse Cooper 2021 report on social infrastructure, private sector investment is essential as governments have prioritised investments in economic infrastructure.

Sustainable practices in implementing infrastructure projects can create value for the built engineering sector to thrive and assist with the socio-economic challenges in South Africa. The triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment do not exist in a vacuum. There is a connection to inequitable access to essential services rendered in public facilities.

Gender-sensitive spatial planning can be a catalyst for ensuring fair use of public infrastructure that makes all citizens feel safe. Women’s voices and needs when planning, building, and rebuilding urban infrastructure across the world are required.

In social housing, minute movements give hope to those who bear the brunt of rapid urbanisation and living in cities while making a living on minimum wage. In the City of Tshwane, social housing projects connect the residents with a transport network corridor that flows into the CBD, albeit not always efficient.

The investment is significant and will yield results such as easing road congestion and making it affordable to live and work in the city. Providing social housing in urban and suburban areas can also allow access to existing social infrastructure that would improve the lives of the residents who are working low-income jobs, effectively bypassing the possibility of over-investing in large and complex infrastructure development.

Social infrastructure development should not solely burden the state; public-private partnerships should drive investment. The current trend of building student accommodation in inner cities or on the periphery of campuses is a prime example of a public-private partnership for the public good. The collaboration also allows new investors to tap into the property ownership market, which requires a significant transformation in ownership and participation aligned with the transformation goals of the country.

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There is value in social infrastructure investment on the African continent because the development needs of the continent’s citizens are currently lagging. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the deficiencies of social infrastructure, particularly in the education sector. First-world countries and elite citizens of developing countries could have minimal interruptions by moving to teach and learning on online platforms. Covid-19 may have exposed the inadequacies of social infrastructure.

However, it has become a much-needed push factor to create investment in education, health, digital infrastructure and housing sectors. Timeous delivery of social infrastructure projects such as hospitals, schools and clinics optimises service delivery initiatives.

Delays in the delivery of social infrastructure place pressure on the economy and uncertainty in the attainment of sustainable development goals 9 of industry innovation and 11 on making cities sustainable cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable.

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The value chain of social infrastructure translates to job creation within the social sectors; education, health, human settlements and transport are vital to developing sustainable communities, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas. Developers and investors should construct greener infrastructure and retrofit existing infrastructure systems using innovative technologies.

Investment in social infrastructure can also decrease the inequality gap that is widening consistently. Human-centred design is not just a buzzword. It’s a critical ideological positioning that allows infrastructure design to include aspects of cultural identity and resilience to mitigate climate change and foster social cohesion.

Human-centred design is good for the community as a co-agent of the development as it facilitates a knowledge transfer of what the professionals do. It enables and empowers them to see how the required social infrastructure is implemented for their needs.

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Paramount to the success in developing social infrastructure is its adequacy and accessibility. Multiple social services create successful social infrastructure assets. Also, incorporating human-centred design principles, social infrastructure should be responsive to the needs of the communities.

Diversity is crucial to successful social infrastructure development as it will meet specific demographic user needs. This infrastructure development requires multi-disciplinary engagement beyond the scope of the built environment sector to produce holistic solutions that adapt to the idiosyncrasies of communities.

* Onkabetse Chaane -Moiloa is a registered Quantity Surveyor at GT Quantity Surveyors and Project Managers CC and is currently a Msc in Quantity Surveying student at the University of Pretoria