The woman behind state projects worth trillions

drivING FORCE : Sinazo Sibisi, group executive of infrastructure delivery at the Development Bank of SA, believes there needs to be a new agenda regarding gender consciousness Photo: Tiro Ramatlhatse
drivING FORCE : Sinazo Sibisi, group executive of infrastructure delivery at the Development Bank of SA, believes there needs to be a new agenda regarding gender consciousness Photo: Tiro Ramatlhatse

She was the first black female in South Africa on the executive committee of global audit firm Deloitte, and is now a central figure in the country's crucial trillion-rand infrastructure programme.

When President Jacob Zuma announced in 2009 that the country would roll out a multibillion-rand infrastructure project to build social infrastructure and create conditions for business to flourish, Sinazo Sibisi did not have a public profile then. Back then, no one knew she would end up heading this initiative.

Sibisi is group executive of the recently created infrastructure delivery unit at state-owned Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

Her unit is charged with the mammoth task of ensuring that the bank goes beyond just funding projects, but also becomes involved in their actual delivery.

For South Africa to become a first world developed country whose people enjoy a reasonable living standard, large infrastructure has to be rolled out.

This is where Sibisi comes in.

With a unit staffed with eight permanent workers, 63 contractors (mostly engineers, construction project managers, programme managers and quantity surveyors), Sibisi has carried out some of the country's mega projects in education, health and housing.

Since its establishment in January 2013, the team has completed 32 schools, 560 rural houses, 42 doctors' consulting rooms and refurbished 68 clinics.

Sibisi says her job is to ensure that government gets value for money through helping with the management of planning, designing and construction of projects.

"We aim to act as an agent for various public and private sector institutions to help them improve the speed and quality of the delivery of various infrastructure programmes largely in the social infrastructure space such as schools, clinics, hospitals, housing."

The bank is currently helping the health department with a 10-year health infrastructure plan.

Sibisi says something is amiss with how the government carries out infrastructure projects, which is why her unit was established.

"If we are going to achieve our aspirations of creating a united, prosperous South Africa with low levels of inequality and a reasonable standard of living for all, then we are significantly behind in that regard [infrastructure development].

"As much as we put aside trillions, we [are] not spending these trillions. Even when we spend these trillions we [are] not spending them well, we don't get value for money," she says.

"In those terms we have a long way to go and this is precisely why this unit was created, to say how can we as DBSA use our expertise in the infrastructure space to not just do finance but get involved in the actual delivery," she says, noting that compared to many countries on the continent, South Africa is investing in infrastructure.

The seventh-born in her family, Sibisi was born in the 1960s in Inchanga, KwaZulu-Natal, to parents who were teachers at a missionary school. When she was five years old, Sibisi was among the children who moved with their mother to Birmingham in the UK, from where they moved to other cities until she finished her university studies in the late 1980s.

On her return to South Africa in the early 1990s, Sibisi served as a PR councillor for the ANC in Cape Town.

At the time the party ran the council. On her way to the DBSA, Sibisi also led Deloitte's Southern Africa's public sector industry's consulting division.

Her views on the state of women in the country are telling: "Just because we have more women in political leadership and administrative leadership in the state doesn't necessarily mean that those women are gender-conscious. "I really think we need to [coin] a new agenda for the gender agenda in this country.

"Eleanor Roosevelt [a 1960s US first lady and activist] said the future belongs to those who believe in their dreams.

"As women, young women, old women, you need to be able to dream, to believe that you can actually be more than you can be."

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