The Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concessionaire is a prime example of a successful toll road business that serves as an important catalyst for regional socio-economic growth. Bakwena’s new commercial manager, Solomon Kganyago, speaks to IMIESA about ongoing developments.

What’s your construction background?

SM  As a civil engineer, I’ve always been passionate about roads. After graduating from the University of Cape Town, I spent my first five years at the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport. This was followed by 11 years with Sanral Northern Region, where my last position was deputy regional manager. Applied experience in the construction and project management space has provided me with a solid foundation for my new role at Bakwena. I’m really excited about adding value in all areas, including transformation, stakeholder management and corporate social investment. It’s all about delivering safe and sustainable road infrastructure.

How can you make a difference?

My personal goals are intertwined with Bakwena’s longer-term vision and comprise three core elements aimed at delivering a relevant commercial strategy. First, to establish brand clarity so that stakeholders clearly understand our role and what we represent as Bakwena: that we’re a toll concessionaire and not a mining company, or an NGO, even though we have ‘platinum’ in our name! Second, I would like Bakwena to be strategically driven. And third, and more critically, we need to be customer-centric. As a self-funded entity, toll fees are Bakwena’s single source of revenue, which places major emphasis on our ability to deliver exceptional service. Listening to the needs of road users and the N1N4 community has a direct bearing on where we need to revitalise and invest in the future network.

Bakwena’s current road mandate is 385 km. Are there plans to expand this?

Our scope, as a special-purpose vehicle, is limited to the current network in terms of our contractual agreement with Sanral, which runs through to 2031. At that point, we are mandated to hand over the toll infrastructure to Sanral in a predetermined condition; however, as part of our internal commercial strategy, Bakwena is debating the possibility of other options beyond 2031.

What capital projects are planned for 2019?

Bakwena will be investing approximately R270 million in large capital projects in 2019, as part of our continuous maintenance and construction strategy. The resurfacing of the N4 west-bound carriageway between the R512 up to the Buffelspoort interchange was completed in February 2019 at a cost of R101 million. The R511 interchange project, valued at R55 million, will be completed in April 2019 and entails the provision of new west-facing ramps to improve traffic flows and road safety.

For the balance of 2019, we have two main projects. The first, awarded in mid-2017, entails the reconstruction of the N4 in Groot Marico between Vaalkop and the Swartruggens boundary, at a construction cost of around R250 million. The anticipated completion date is June 2019.

The second project entails the addition of a second carriageway on the N4, between the M17 and R512 (Brits interchange). Spread over a distance of 32 km, this 36-month programme is scheduled for completion in June 2021, at a project cost of some R582 million. This will establish a continuous dual-carriageway route extending from Pretoria, through to Brits and then Buffelspoort.

Does Bakwena invest in new construction techniques?

We benchmark our construction operations based on local and international best
practices. This includes the recruitment, continuous training and development of our engineering personnel.

We expect our contractors to keep up to date with the latest construction equipment trends, since this passes on greater efficiencies in terms of time and cost. The issue of resource efficiencies is also top of mind when it comes to maximising the use of recycled materials, like road aggregates.

Once Sanral’s new Technical Innovation Hub has been established, this will also provide an invaluable pool of knowledge for us and the industry at large.

How does Bakwena contribute to macroeconomic growth?

Where roads are built, development follows and, over the years, Bakwena’s N1N4 network roll-out and maintenance strategies have certainly facilitated this. Once we’ve completed the dual-carriageway link between Pretoria and Brits, we plan to continue on to Rustenburg.

The construction of the N4 north of Pretoria created a boost to the Rosslyn industrial area and when the current N4 route around Rustenburg was built, it was intended to be a bypass. Today, it’s bordered by major developments on both sides of the N4, and  is now regarded as a major economic corridor.

Is the tariff structure adequate?

Yes, the tariff structure is adequate, and is used to finance continuous maintenance and construction works, cover operational costs and repay structured loans by 2031.

Bakwena has an excellent safety record. How has this been achieved?

We approach safety in two key ways: first, through engineering design and construction; and second, via safety awareness and simulated emergency incident training, working with local traffic authorities and SAPS emergency services. It’s a continuous process, as we find regularly new ways to improve driver behaviour and reduce the number of accidents. Physical interventions include barriers to prevent U-turns on dangerous sections.

Please expand on bridge safety audits.

We have a panel of qualified bridge inspectors, which carries out a detailed assessment of each bridge every five years to determine defects like spalling, accident damage and the condition of expansion joints. However, remedial action and maintenance are carried out on identified bridges on an annual basis. The most recent major refurbishment was a complex project to reinstate the Groot Marico Bridge following flood damage and scouring of the bridge pier.

How important is community involvement?

This is central to our strategy. As part of the commercial strategy, we are busy finalising our stakeholder engagement policy. That includes our procurement initiatives in terms  of transformation.

And the road ahead?

I’m fortunate to be working with a dedicated team of highly motivated and skilled individuals united in reaching a common goal to deliver quality road infrastructure over the remaining 12.5 years of our current contract. Over the longer term, we’d like to be part of the construction landscape after 2031. Let’s see what happens. Either way, toll roads will continue to be part of the country’s future transportation strategy on critical routes across South Africa, and they provide opportunities for public-private partnerships.