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Date: 10 Jun 2012
Title: A man with a mission
Pretoria - There's a glint in Bheki Nkosi's eye as he steps out of his official vehicle onto the dusty building site that is in the process of becoming the June 16th Memorial and Youth Institute.
Nkosi is Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure Development, and despite his smart sports jacket and leather loafers, he inspects the site carefully, stepping through water puddles and wet cement to see every last bit of the site. He's a man on a mission: he wants to deliver the best possible building, and he's here to make sure it happens.
A 45-minute tour later (under the guidance of the contractor, architect and project managers), Nkosi's face is visibly more relaxed. His department - the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID) - is doing its job: delivering a building for other government departments on time, to budget and to spec.
The June 16th Memorial and Youth Institute is a project of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, the June 16 Foundation and the community of Central-Western-Jabavu and is directly opposite the Morris Isaacson High School, on Soweto's June 16th Trail.
The institute is among the June 16th Trail projects aimed at identifying and recognising the contributions made by the young people of Soweto and South Africa towards the struggle against racism oppression. The R28 million building is designed in the shape of an AK47, described by Nkosi as "a symbol of the freedoms gained across Africa".
The project includes a multi-purpose room which the community can use for meetings, weddings and funerals, as well as a computer room, back-up generators, an exhibition area, ablution blocks, observation platforms, merchandise room and store room, and multimedia room.
On completion, it will be surrounded by a landscaped outdoor area which will also be available for community functions. It is enclosed by a Memorial Wall, which will provide a pictorial history of the area and June 16 on the Institute side and a walkway for children on their way to Morris Isaacson High on its outer.
When asked how all of this will function, Nkosi explains that the construction work is DID's responsibility, but that the completed project will be handed over to his clients to run. What is his business is constructing it, and making it a part of the community by training and employing people from the community (93 so far, with the project at 80% completion).
Just around the corner from the institute and opposite the Jabulani Mall, is Jabulani Hospital, a 300-bed district hospital which DID has recently completed.
The hospital will help relieve the pressure on Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and clinics in the surrounding areas. The project consists of two sections: the Gateway Clinic and the Main Hospital Building with their supporting outbuildings including a laundry, kitchen, mortuary, workshop and store rooms and plant room.
"The facility follows a modern design that integrates the latest technology with finishes that make it a true recovery environment," says Nkosi.
Nkosi's site inspections at the Youth Institute and Jabulani Hospital came days before he delivered his Budget Vote in the Gauteng Legislature on Friday.
Where is the majority of the Department of Infrastructure Development's budget going in 2012/2013?
Mostly, into constructing schools and refurbishing and regenerating old infrastructure which falls under the Department of Health, like autoclaves, boilers and housing for doctors and nurses, at a cost of approximately R450 million. The maintenance of hospitals and medical facilities is a major part of what we do, through DID employees based at hospitals in Gauteng. In this coming financial year, we'll be involved in 318 education-related construction projects and 65 planning projects around education infrastructure, five new schools and 164 grade R classrooms will be constructed and we're rehabilitating 72 education facilities and fencing 35 schools.
Which project in the coming financial year excites you most?
Definitely what has become known within the department s "the IDT schools". They're built using alternative construction methods and technology supported by the IDT. The technique cuts down school construction time from two years to six months. We're hoping the proof of concept will open the way for the Department of Education to give us more schools to build on their behalf.
What gives you sleepless nights?
Two things: planning around infrastructure delivery and expenditure on existing budgets. In the first case, it's about providing a further-reaching planning framework, rather than the historical ad hoc approach. We're introducing a number of new planning tools to help us manage our planning for the medium term framework. In turn, this feeds into the second point of expenditure. Traditionally, DID has had low expenditure, but with the changes in planning and also new building techniques, this will go up. My aim is to ensure that spending is planned better and more useful expenditure.
What do you wish every person in Gauteng knew about your department?
That we've been working exceptionally hard as a department to improve hospitals and clinics in Gauteng, and will continue to do so in the coming financial year. DID is a difficult department to "showcase" because we do so much work behind the scenes, literally building schools and hospitals, which are then handed over to our clients like the departments of Education and Health. Jointly, those two departments give us a budget of R3 billion a year for construction and maintenance projects. Without DID, the hospitals in which children are born and the schools where they are educated would not be possible.
In a dream world where money is no object, what would you do with DID?
I'd turn it into a fully capacitated government-owned construction company, a "government Murray & Roberts" if you like. DID faces a number of hurdles, like the lack of skilled personnel, which undermine our ability to deliver. DID employs engineers, architects, town planners, quantity surveyors, essentially professional people. In my fantasy world, thousands of professionals are already working with us, helping us to make things better, to construct faster, more efficiently and delivering even more to the people of Gauteng. Unfortunately, in the real world many of them have left the public service and we've prioritised capacity-building to re-employ or recruit new staff members. We offer bursaries in the fields that feed our staff needs but also liaise with professional bodies and the private sector to tap into the skills they have.
Finally, what makes you go to work every morning?
The zeal, call it passion, to do my work well on behalf of the people of Gauteng. It seems trite, but it's the truth.
*Article appeared in the Mail & Guardian 8 - 14 June 2012