One of the most consequential decisions taken by South Africa's first democratic government under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela was to focus on infrastructure as a means to bring development, growth as well as opportunities to the majority of the country's citizens who were not able to share in the benefits of economic growth in the past.
In 1998 he addressed a municipal infrastructure summit in the Free State where he spoke passionately about his government's "difficult task of reconstructing our shattered society and providing the most basic of services to our people" – schools, housing, clinics and roads.
In that same year, he took a visionary decision to establish a national roads agency – SANRAL – with the primary mandate to plan, manage and maintain the national road network and to build it into a national asset that serves all communities and provides access to opportunities and development.
SANRAL's Road to Success should be measured against its achievements in meeting the high expectations set by the founders of our democracy and, indeed, in its ability to go beyond this mandate and making an impact on the lives of millions of South Africans.
Two decades later, in the year in which our country, together with the rest of the world, commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, SANRAL has embarked on a new stage of its journey. Its commitment to serve South Africa through the delivery of a world-class road network remains undiminished - but it is also taking stock of the modern infrastructure environment and the changing needs of South Africa within the social, economic and regional contexts.
From its establishment in 1998 SANRAL set its goals very high. During the ensuing years the national road network has steadily grown in size, linking urban and rural communities and improving connectivity between the country and its neighbours in the region.
This has contributed to mobility and supported economic growth objectives. It offers access to opportunities for communities and will always be a major catalyst for growth in critical sectors of the economy such as trade, commerce, agriculture and tourism.
But SANRAL's role in society stretches beyond the provision of concrete and tarmac. As a primary national asset, we have embraced the contribution we can make to building a knowledge economy in line with Madiba's own conviction that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Within the agency itself, SANRAL recognises that its people are the most important and valuable assets. Employees are given ample opportunities for career development and skills training and SANRAL recognises the pivotal role it is playing to develop the next generation of engineers, artisans and skilled professionals for the broader construction and engineering sector.
An important initiative in this regard was the establishment of the SANRAL Technical Excellence Academy in the Nelson Mandela Metro which offers advanced training and practical experience for graduate engineers.
Most of these students have graduated with SANRAL bursaries from tertiary institutions. In recent years SANRAL offered at least 130 bursaries annually for both undergraduate and graduate students to pursue engineering qualifications while close on 200 scholarships are given to high school learners in all nine provinces.
Through targeted sponsorship of research chairs in engineering, transportation and technology education at the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and the Free State, SANRAL contributes to the wider accumulation of research knowledge that benefits the country's wider education system and the engineering and construction sectors in particular.
The Chair in Science, Mathematics and Technology Education at the University of the Free State is linked to a grassroots initiative to improve educational outcomes in at least three provinces through enrichment classes for teachers, parents and learners from under-resourced communities.
In the Western Cape SANRAL has established a Technical Innovation Hub to share information and experience between young engineers and experienced professionals. Through such initiatives SANRAL contributes to the transfer of knowledge and skills and ensure that the agency remains at the leading edge of global thinking in the engineering and transportation sectors.
A similar commitment to skills development is at the core of SANRAL's community development programmes. On each of its projects SANRAL works closely with community structures and local enterprises to ensure high levels of participation by small-, medium- and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) and black-owned businesses.
One of the major driving forces for SANRAL at the start of its third decade is to accelerate the transformation of the construction and engineering sectors through the allocation of work packages to SMMEs, black-owned and women-owned enterprises. This will be sustained through training and skills development programmes that will ensure such enterprises can progress to become contractors with the capacity to create more jobs in the sector.
SANRAL's road to success over the past two decades has not been an easy journey. The road ahead remains full of challenges and opportunities. On this journey it will be guided by a clear vision and strategy – Horizon 2030. Through this approach SANRAL wants to contribute to the building of a capable and developmental state which can drive economic development and growth through the provision and maintenance of critical infrastructure.
The vision that Nelson Mandela had for South Africa when he engineered the democratic transition in 1994 eventually culminated in the adoption of the National Development Plan – a broad-based and comprehensive strategy – to draw on the energies of South Africa's people and build an inclusive economy.
SANRAL will continue to be a valuable national asset and a trusted partner for all South Africans on this Road to Success.
Skhumbuzo Macozoma is the CEO of SANRAL