The new Tugela Bridge project for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport’s Pedestrian Bridge Programme demonstrates commitment from Hatch, and the entire project team, to help communities overcome poverty. In undertaking such community project, Hatch responds to the need for the private sector to be more engaged in sustainable community development.
The Tugela River bridge is located adjacent to the town of Mvumase, at the base of the Maphumulo Valley. Mvumase is particularly isolated from surrounding communities, schools, and local amenities, with residents having to wade across the 150m wide river.
The new infrastructure gives hope to the surrounding communities, especially the local children. This is because the Tugela Bridge now provides safe passage to schools and local amenities such as healthcare facilities and local supermarkets, and to work opportunities for older community members.
The Tugela is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal, with an approximate total length of 502 km, from its origin in the Drakensberg Mountains to its confluence with the Indian Ocean. Local community members suffered loss of life, in terms of both adults and children, who tried to cross the Tugela River to access the local road, schools, and amenities, but were swept away by the strong current, or attacked by crocodiles often spotted along the river banks.
“The new Tugela Bridge thus provides dignified development and support to give local people control over their own futures, achieving one of the central themes of Hatch’s corporate manifesto: namely, to ensure that we make a real difference in the communities in which we work,” says Sarisha Harrychund, PrEng, Structures & Bridges.
“The project highlights success in the convergence of commercial and social opportunities, and how the best corporate responsibility initiatives can be both scalable and sustainable when they are mainstreamed within the operational activities of a professional services, private sector company like Hatch,” Harrychund comments.
Feedback has already been received from teachers at the local school, expressing how the impressive Tugela Bridge has become a daily source of inspiration to young community members to aspire to STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
In executing this project, Hatch recognised that the traditional technocentric approach to implementing projects could potentially not be acceptable to the local community. Hatch therefore drove a participatory process with the local community through regular face-to-face interaction throughout the project. Clear protocols were followed in communicating with traditional leaders and elders, which emphasised the ‘win-win’ benefits of the project for all concerned.
Imparting an understanding of the long-term benefits of the project was important, because the community had short-term employment benefit expectations that could not be realised. Hatch had to clearly articulate the significant health and safety risks associated with labour activities on the project, and explain that skilled labour, with specialised training for work-at-heights and suspension bridge construction, was required.
The time and effort invested by Hatch in open communication with the local community was critical to achieving successful project delivery. The engineer and contractor approached the challenging project with a collaborative attitude, as opposed to the attitude imposed by traditional procurement approaches of pushing risk down the supply chain. Ongoing, open engagement between the two parties allowed for idea sharing, and risks to be identified and managed economically, quickly and safely.