The drive to develop: Chris Hlabisa
An exclusive interview with Chris Hlabisa, Deputy Director General, Department of Transport, South Africa.
“I started working in government on 21st January 1981, straight out of matric,” says Chris Hlabisa, Deputy Director General of the South African Department of Transport.
“I have been with government since I cut my teeth in the Department of Public Works, working in the roads unit. That is where I discovered my passion for roads.”
Hlabisa, who has a BTech degree in transportation and is a registered engineer with ECSA, explains his passion for roads:
“My passion for roads comes from the fact that I believe, without roads there is no development. Roads generate the wealth of the country and bring about change within communities for the better.
“I want to see previously economically marginalised people transform their lives for the better.”
Hlabisa believes there are too many communities that are not yet linked by roads.
Two thirds of South Africa is considered rural, and according to Hlabisa, out of the 750,000kms of roads in the country, two thirds make up the rural roads network. However, with a population of approximately 56 million people, there are just not enough roads to adequately connect everyone.
“Some provinces are seeing the population shrink as its people move to the other cities in order to get jobs and improve their lives. This is fracturing the fibre of family life because families are living so far apart from one another.”
Roads will bring wealth to communities is the message Hlabisa conveys. He believes that roads bring jobs to areas, both during construction and maintenance periods. However, he is also aware the building roads requires funds, and funds are in ever short supply.
“We need to build more roads! And we need more investment in our roads. Our fiscal framework is shrinking, yet the population is expanding and we need to find ways to deliver vital infrastructure for our people.”
There is a need to be innovative and creative in identifying of funding streams to supplement the fiscus.
The prioritisation of projects in line with the availability of budgets is done at the MINMEC level where the minister and MECs meet and discuss the plans for the next five years.
True change, says Hlabisa, means people and communities are transformed for the better, inequality is reduced and poverty eradicated.
We are seeing deeper community understanding that there will never be enough funding in the fiscus to achieve all our goals at one time. They understand the value of true public participation and that infrastructure priorities are determined through their engagement with their local representatives. This deeper understanding will ultimately minimise the need for civil action as people appreciate their role in the process and respond to the increased transparency of government.
In urban areas, road development and design are much better because of the access to intelligent systems. Rural areas don’t have access to services to support IT and so even issues like vehicle tracking systems don’t always work. Lack of connectivity services makes it difficult to implement smart systems in rural areas.
“When we talk about roads infrastructure, we need to talk about the supporting infrastructure too,” Hlabisa says.
South Africa utilises a number of intelligent systems including traffic management systems, speed cameras and traffic counting to mention a few.
This allows for suitable prioritisation of road infrastructure and maintenance programmes based on current information.
Challenges and opportunities in Africa
“Africa needs money to develop infrastructure. Development is key for Africa and that is why a conference like this will whet the appetite of developed countries to help with funding for this kind of infrastructure.
“We need technical skills in addition to funding on this Continent,” says Hlabisa.
More countries need to work together and collaborate on the development of road infrastructure. “The idea is to share plans and develop multinational agreements to work together and learn from one another,” Hlabisa believes. “Not a single one of us has all the answers, but by working together, we can do so much.”
“I really want to encourage countries to work together so that we can share experiences and learn from each other toward the common goal of developing Africa.”
What South Africa is doing to develop road infrastructure
“October is transport month and we use this opportunity to showcase our ‘product’ in the transport market,” Hlabisa says. It’s an opportunity to engage with the communities, hear from them regarding their hardships, understand where they have needs and plan, in terms of the limited fiscal opportunities, where priorities lie.
The purpose of the October Transport Month campaign is to showcase transport infrastructure services and Department of Transport flagship programmes delivered across all modes namely, aviation, maritime, roads and rail and including public transport.
As part of the activities, Minister Maswanganyi launched the South African National Roads Agency Limited’s (SANRAL) 2030 Horizon Strategy which outlines the Agency’s vision for road infrastructure development and management.
Most important message
“Let’s bridge the gap between the developed and underdeveloped countries. The uplifting of the poorest of the poor, dealing with civil challenges such as poverty, unemployment and inequality, must be non-negotiable.”