Community members in Shallcross, Durban, who fixed two damaged bridges in under a month, said they were tired of waiting for government.
The #WeBuildBridges group is a collective of business owners, professionals, community members and concerned citizens from Shallcross that are “picking up the slack” from government. On Sunday night, the group officially re-opened the Hans Dettman bridge on the M34 which was extensively damaged following the April floods.
This was the group’s second such project after they restored the Pompeni Bridge in Shallcross last month.
Marcus Richards, who speaks on behalf of the group, said Hans Dettman bridge is a very crucial connector to various communities around Shallcross.
Richards said the approach road to the bridge was completely washed away by the floods.
Unlike the Pompeni Bridge where the eThekwini Municipality provided expert oversight and five percent buy-in, Richards said there was no government assistance with this project.
That is because the Hans Dettman bridge was situated along a road under the jurisdiction of the South African National Road Agency (Sanral).
“We wrote to Sanral and DOT (Department of Transport) and made several phone calls to them and unfortunately nothing was forthcoming from them and we decided enough is enough,” said Richards.
“People were telling us that their fuel bill went up by R1 500 a month [having to take alternative routes], that is how bad it was.”
Richards said they eventually decided to start work on restoring the bridge on Saturday (June 11) last week.
Richards said their group included experienced engineers employed in the private and government sector along with service providers with a lot of experience in project and construction management.
Richards said the project was sponsored largely by business owners either through cash donations or lending heavy duty machinery which costs millions.
“The community also donated, there was a pensioner who came to us and gave us R100 and that was so touching to us because that is what this whole thing is about,” said Richards.
The group has earned many plaudits on social media, with people calling for them to help out in other areas of Durban where bridges have not been rebuilt.
Richards said the group is already in the process of identifying their next project. He said unfortunately it has fallen to communities to uplift themselves as they can no longer rely on government.
“We are dealing with incompetent leadership from guys that are managing our water, electricity and [other] systems,” said Richards. I think complacency and lack of ability to manage and work the system [is a contributing factor]. A civil servant getting paid by revenue generated by taxpayers is never there.”
Sanral did not respond to questions from The Witness at the time of publication.