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Investing & bridging the infrastructure gap in Africa

Discussions from the third DEVAC Infrastructure Africa conference held in Sandton, Johannesburg, on 17 and 18 May 2023. By Benita Styander, Oxyon.

How can Africa increase investment in infrastructure across the whole continent and all sectors? This was the pertinent question raised in the opening keynote address of the third DEVAC Infrastructure Africa conference held in Sandton, Johannesburg, on 17 and 18 May 2023. Hon. Sihle Zikalala, the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, praised new and upcoming partnerships and integration to align the public and private sectors.

Zikalala discussed Agenda 2063, to create an Africa we all want, one that is prosperous. It will also encompass integration and Africa to be politically united. The goal is to have world class infrastructure whereby no one will be left behind. This will be implemented by connecting the various parts of Africa via one road: the TransAfrica Highway. Zikalala stated that this integration with other countries will bring huge opportunities with railway integration, cleaner sources of energy being implemented, and connectivity integrated into roads and railway.

Furthermore, Zikalala added that by 2050 the whole of Government incorporating its three spheres of investment would have a large emphasis placed on energy. The ISA Pipeline of Projects of Government Capital Injection is aimed at 2050 and 2052. He noted that since 2015, infrastructure has started to dwindle, impacting the entire economy. Therefore 1.6 trillion dollars are to be invested by 2030 alone. This would include over 50% to be invested into electricity and roads which would essentially create employment opportunities and substantial economic growth. Maintenance and the expanding capacity also went unkept, which affected water and electricity. Currently even basics like social infrastructure are detrimentally affected, where not even basics like schools are built. This would be a game-changer for job opportunities, especially for lower skilled persons. Thirdly, building plans since last Quarter 2022 have decreased, causing a decline in public and private partnerships.

Zikalala noted that steel demand can be foreseen to boom as the steel industry will grow. Strategic problems are being addressed around energy, water and waste elimination, alternate Energy for Government and New Buildings for Government. The services will all be situated in one area and easily accessible. In addition, Building and Construction Industries will grow and incorporate the unemployed and newly graduates. It’s estimated that 450 million will be invested into workplace training a year, thus 10 000 learners per annum. Emphasis to be placed on localization. Like poultry and sugar cane masterplans, just so a masterplan to be rolled out for construction, machinery, and equipment to be localized to create more jobs. Government is to partner with DEVAC Infrastructure to achieve these goals.

Tshepo Kgobe PMP, COO of the Gautrain Management Agency and Advisory Board Chairman stated that the Government would have a look at the national interest versus social economy. South Africa being an energy poor country, the question would be: Do we build an economy to fund infrastructure or do we build infrastructure to build an economy.

Speaker Jared Grey, Executive Manager: Business Planning for the Gautrain Management Agency, South Africa elaborated on a need for a Gautrain commercialization solution. This had come after the impact of Covid-19 as people started to work remotely from home versus travelling to work. To become profitable and sustainable, the idea is to duplicate the Mass Transit Rail Sustainability Model and find the correct partners. Gautrain would no longer be a mere mode of transport but become a brand, a social economic way of life with modern day planned coffee shops to be placed in between transit points.

The speaker, Mashudu Ramano, the founder and Chief Executive Officer from Mitochondria Energy Company, introduced a new industry and new emerging energy system to be rolled out to the whole world by Africa, the Hydrogen Economy. Noted that 90% of the universe is made from Hydrogen. This will be decentralized energy. There are fuel cells and 450 highly technical components that make electricity with no moving parts, a true revolution in the Energy Sector. The aim is also to decentralize water solutions. Further Ramano added that 2.1 trillion dollars are to be invested into hydrogen energy. The issue remains: the right skills are required to speed up bankable projects.

On day two, speaker Prof. Joe Amandi-Echendu, a professor of Engineering and Technology Management for the University of Pretoria discussed the role of green hydrogen in infrastructure. He noted that Africa does not have a liquid grid which is required to create new industries. Rural and urban infrastructure must be considered. Amandi-Echendu also highlighted that hydrogen energy is still in an experimental phase whereby engineers encounter problems with emissions and require a carbon catcher. With the demand worldwide for hydrogen energy rising, it is foreseen that 900 kilotons will be required by the year 2050.

He further added that creating a demand for investment is crucial and building policies would be critical to the rollout and implementation of such infrastructure. Currently there is a R70-billion to R100-billion deficit of investment in energy a year. Important elements would be to invest as green as possible, consider both an integration of renewable and non-renewable energy as a possible current solution, and taking social responsibility by ensuring that everyone is taken along and no one is left behind.


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