The government has been talking about its R845-billion infrastructure build programme for some time now, but a growing number of construction companies – and engineering firms – are complaining about the government’s lack of building and investing, with many companies resorting to retrenchments due to low levels of work.

Additionally, while industry pundits have consistently been warning about a shortfall of 40 000 – 50 000 artisans, the current situation – with the lack of government spend – could mean that there is not such a dire need for artisans.

Says Sean Jones, co-founder and director of black empowered artisan training academy, Artisan Training Institute (ATI): “The government was initially meant to spend R845-billion on building projects between 2012 and 2015 – but this has not happened. Construction companies are now starting to feel the pain, with many having to resort to retrenching, including the retrenching of civil engineers.

“What this also arguably means is that the much-talked-of shortage of artisans might not be as dire at the moment. It is true there will be a lack of artisans if the government does proceed with its massive build programme – but this does not seem to be happening,” said Jones.

An article published in Business Day in 2012 quoted President Zuma, who said that the government was planning to boost South Africa’s economic development and growth – and that part of this would be achieved by spending R4-trillion on infrastructure over the next 15 years, presumably ending in 2027.

“This assertion certainly looks questionable now,” said Jones. “The government has certainly not put its foot on the accelerator with regards to its infrastructure build programme. Instead, it seems to have its foot hovering on the brake.”

While Zuma did not give details on specific infrastructure projects, he did stress – in the 2012 Business Day article – that R845-billion would be pumped into projects over a three period, presumably from 2012 to 2015.

“This clearly has not happened,” said Jones. “Given this, it does call into question whether or not the government will really spend R3-trillion on infrastructure build programmes over a 15 year period. With the current track record, this figure must be called into question – and companies should be careful of ramping up in preparation for this significant capital spend,” warned Jones.