We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

De Lille defends R37m cost of Beitbridge border fence

Construction teams building the 1.8m-high fence, which will span 20km on each side of the border post between SA from Zimbabwe, are expected to complete the work in the next few days.
Construction teams building the 1.8m-high fence, which will span 20km on each side of the border post between SA from Zimbabwe, are expected to complete the work in the next few days.
Image: Supplied.

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille has defended the R37m fence at the Beitbridge border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This follows widespread criticism of the minister after images were circulated on social media showing that the barbed-wire fence had been cut through, with a hole clearly visible.

De Lille has lashed out about how there has been no condemnation of the criminals who cut the fence. Instead, she said, the criticism has been directed at her department and the contractor working on the project.

“As is widely known, the border fence line has also been subject to criminal activities which have resulted in the procurement of additional security personnel and the deployment of defence force officials to provide additional security support. To date there have been no formal arrests,” she said on Friday.

She said her department had, from the onset, emphasised the importance of safeguarding the asset and securing the border, with the contractor using more than the usual number of security personnel.

She revealed that there has been theft of some of the contractor’s materials, which resulted in her writing to defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on April 4, asking for the deployment of SANDF members.

A number of SANDF members were then deployed to conduct patrols in helicopters, on foot, on motorcycles and  in 4x4 vehicles.

“It is disappointing that at this time when the department of public works and infrastructure and the contractor are doing their utmost to fulfil a request by the president to secure the border that the public commentary has been silent on the criminal elements and theft. There has not been any condemnation of these criminal acts,” said De Lille.

The minister sought to assure the public, following “serious concerns” raised about the value of the contract, that the department followed all the required processes in awarding the contract.

She said while many have questioned the R37m cost, and asked whether it equated to nearly R1m per kilometre, the equation was not that simple, especially on such a complex project.

She said the cost of a project in a remote area differed compared to inland or urban project costs a similar scope. The complex rates in this project are influenced by acceleration costs such as the short contract period, more labour resources required to do the job, increased speed of provision of material, and increased overheads for management and plant equipment.

There is an intensive labour component to the project given the compressed timeframe and this is part of the overall contract costs, she said.

“We must seek to find positivity in times of despair and the silver lining as it pertains to this project, and that is the contribution this project has had on the local economy. It has meant 160 local labourers have been able to bring money and food to their families.

“The same is applicable to all other workers on this site, including security personnel, local manufacturers and suppliers who have ensured the continuous supply of large quantities of material given the short turnaround time. The have also received a much-needed boost to their business operations.

“Of course we would prefer that the circumstances were different, that we didn’t have to work under these conditions, but it is the reality we are faced with and it is our collaborative and positive approach that will drive our success both on this project and as country, and as such we continue to pull together,” said De Lille.

She said the contractor, Magwa Construction, had completed much of the onerous work, including the site clearance, removal of the old, damaged fence and the installation of the new posts, gates and stream crossings.

The remaining work is less complex and the contractor was expected to complete the work in the next few days.

The overall tender sum of the project covers the provision of materials, disposal of the old damaged fence, accelerated construction activities, additional security – from six private security personnel to more than 40 - and general occupational health and safety related compliance measures as well as Covid-19 risk mitigation measures on site.

The fence is meant to ensure that no persons cross into or out of the country as part of the efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a state of disaster which closed some border posts.