Africa’s first staging of the World Road Congress got off to a rousing start in Durban on Sunday with Deputy President Jacob Zuma calling on delegates to contribute to the establishment of a road infrastructure that will sustain growth throughout Africa.

DURBAN - Africa’s first staging of the World Road Congress got off to a rousing start in Durban on Sunday with Deputy President Jacob Zuma calling on delegates to contribute to the establishment of a road infrastructure that will sustain growth throughout Africa.


Addressing about 2 000 delegates and dignitaries in the International Conference Centre, Zuma said that from a “transport point of view, key issues in creating an effectively co-ordinated African response to global market challenges were market access, mobility and systems integration” as the continent attempted to “reach parity with the developing regions of the world, both in terms of economic welfare and social inclusion”.


Olivier Michaud, president of Paris-based Permanent International Association for Road Congresses (PIARC), said the event would provide delegates from various nations with “ample opportunities to exchange ideas on transport development and experience new techniques of creating and maintaining road infrastructure”.


But the conference was as much about showcasing road-building technology as paving the way to the establishment of a transport infrastructure in South Africa and the rest of the continent that would facilitate business opportunities, and thus economic upliftment, it emerged last night.


One of the main aims of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), Zuma said, was to accelerate efforts to alleviate poverty on the continent and “promote external assistance, technology transfer and foreign investment in business opportunities”.


The Deputy President admitted that insufficient investment, growing pressures on government budgets and a general concern about service provision by state enterprises had necessitated institutional reforms with the regards to the funding and delivery of services – thus giving rise to public-private partnerships.


“Our particular challenge is the need for huge investments, both for the ambitious projects of the formal sector, as well as to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among those who historically were denied access to economic opportunity,” Zuma concluded.


Earlier, Minister of Transport Dullah Omar said good governance remained critical to proper service delivery in the transport sector. “There is a need for clear division of responsibilities, accountability and transparency in governance,” he said. Governments also had to ensure “that the planning and prioritisation of infrastructure is responsive to the needs of the poor and the environment”.


Today, more than 100 national transport ministers will open the debate around the role infrastructure plays in sustainable development – a topic that was expected to be the focus of the week-long event. The Ministers’ session will consider the initiatives countries has taken to ensure their respective transport systems respond to population needs that are in synch with sustainable socio-economic development objectives.


Tuesday will see delegates addressing issues relating to the role of roads in providing access to essential services like health and education; their design and innovation; the appropriate levels of road development and the access to mobility.


A special session on implementing public private partnerships in the development and operation of road networks will also afford governments, financial institutions and business to compare views on viability and sustainability.