I often write about our efforts to improve the business environment, from driving solutions to our energy crisis to confronting our logistics challenges.
But another very important part of our strategy is far more local – the performance of our municipalities in delivering basic services to their residents.
Last week I got to see a success story of what can happen when business and local government work together.
There are many stories about municipal infrastructure breaking down and a lack of engineering skills available to fix it.
But there are also stories about getting infrastructure back into working order and seeing it result in improved lives for residents.
Our kids can’t go to school thinking they had better not need to use the toilet.
Yet for many schools across our country, that is what they must do, because the toilets at their schools don’t work and are sometimes dangerous.
Just over a week ago I visited a school in the Eastern Cape that until recently could only have kids for an hour or two a day because there were no working toilet facilities.
But that has been fixed thanks to the combined efforts of business, municipalities and the Eastern Cape Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
For the past three years BLSA, together with USAID, has been funding a capacity building programme in the provincial department and various municipalities in the province.
This has allowed for the deployment of retired engineers and financial and technical experts to help improve service delivery.
It is working. The school I visited now has working toilets. The kids are back to full school days.
It is one of eight schools that BLSA has funded among 90 in total that various businesses have backed to have their toilet facilities fixed.
It has required work with municipalities to get water infrastructure working to deliver to the schools, which also means it gets water to residents and businesses.
I also visited a pump station in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality that has been restored through the partnership.
This was very much a collaborative effort. The capacity programme is led by the National Business Initiative and its Technical Assistance Mentorship & Development (Tamdev) project.
This seconds retirees to help fix infrastructure, but importantly also ensures the transfer of skills from retirees to permanent engineers who will be responsible for long-term maintenance and development.
I met young municipality employees who have been mentored by the retirees, gaining skills and confidence thanks to the programme.
This ensures there is a long-term legacy, that we are not intervening ad hoc to fix specific problems, but ensuring that there is permanent capacity creation.
The programme works with the expanded public works programme, so workers join business secondees and in the process acquire skills. Some have gone on to start their own businesses.
Seeing infrastructure working is heartening.
During the visit last week I felt that when we work together we really can solve difficult challenges.
There are people at all levels who are working really hard to do so.
The work I saw last week would not have been possible without the efforts of people in the province, the local municipalities through to the head teacher of the school.
There are real unsung heroes who are not in the headlines. These people work tirelessly in difficult conditions to ensure that our people have access to facilities.
Tamdev is able to unlock specific challenges that they face.
It was a genuinely heartening thing to see.
While modest in scale, it was a demonstration of how we can make a real difference in people’s lives by working together.
I applaud the Eastern Cape government and municipal officials who have helped make it happen.
It shows what is possible in our country.
*This column was first published in the Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) weekly newsletter. The author Busisiwe “Busi” Mavuso, is the CEO of BLSA.
*The views Mavuso expresses in this column are not necessarily those of The Bulrushes