TRAC’s social contract
Like any large, modern company TRAC cannot function independently from the communities in which it operates and, right from the start, community development and social responsibility investment formed part and parcel of the N4 toll road project. With most of the route traversing through Mpumalanga, it was only natural that the largest portion of development initiatives would be focusedwithin the province, but it was nevertheless vital that Mozambique would benefit too.
To achieve participation from communities and ensure they knew about the opportunities inherent in the project’s construction, upgrading and maintenance phases, TRAC held more than 400 meetings with them and their representatives. The company did not only want to uplift local communities through creating temporary and permanentjobs,but aimed to providewider-reaching training and skills transferfacilitation that could lead to their sustainable social and entrepreneurial development.
TRAC kick-started things by spending R1.76 - million on the infrastructure for three community centresin which training could take place, in Machadodorp, Matsulu and Moamba in Mozambique. Apart from the dedicated SMME training it provided, TRAC spent more than R7-million initially to train about 8 500 people in social and community skills such as safety, induction and environmental awareness, construction skills, first-aid, basic healthcare and nursing, management, road safety, basic tendering, adult basic education and training, business skills, how to apply for a job, security, cooking, sewing and computer skills, among others. These centres have since been donated to the communities to use as they see fit, for example, as health clinics.
The value of this basic training provided by TRAC can neither be overestimated nor quantified in monetary value. Access to information is key to development and growth but sorely lacking in many rural areas, and the company is proud to have served information-starved communities through the provision of business and other learning materials.
As far as employment is concerned, TRAC created more than 7 000 jobs during the construction phase alone, and currently provides 1 000 permanent jobs with the company and its subcontractors. Of these employees, 71% is female and 84% is black.
TRAC continues to award SMME contracts to the value of about R15-million rand each year in a variety of small construction, labour and side projects, including the manufacturing of overalls, catering, grass cutting, fencing, signage, haulage and security. These contracts, in turn, create at least another 1 000 job opportunities.
Through the years, TRAC has also given financial support worth millions of rand to community initiatives such as the Thembalethu Aids Centre at the Shongwe Mission in the Nkomazi region, as well as a food tunnel project in Tekwane near Nelspruit. More recently, it “adopted” Takheleni Primary in Matsulu, where it built a large assembly structure for the sun-scorched school and provided computers, shoes, uniforms and stationary, and even planted a garden. Other special projects have included substantial support for Mpumalanga athletes’ development, the annual Innibos arts festival in Nelspruit, the Loskop marathon, Greatest Train Race, local radio stations, and a car wash project in the Kruger National Park. It has also given R30-million of equity in the toll road to a community trust in Mpumalanga.
There can be no doubt that the N4/EN4, since its completion, has played thebiggest role in unlocking the development potential of Mpumalanga and Mozambique’s capital of Maputo, as well as the separately administered Maputo province through which it meanders after crossing the Ressano Garcia border post. Mozambique's gross domestic product growth of 8% is distinctly attributable to the Maputo Corridor Development Initiative, a public-private spatial development partnershipof which the N4/EN4 is the anchor project.
The N4/EN4 has stimulated and developed trade between South Africa and Mozambique, created an enabling environment and numerous opportunities for SMMEs and development projects all along the corridor, and improved travel and communication between Johannesburg and Maputo. The increased viability and scope of both the deep-water ports in Maputo and Matolais a direct result of the corridor, while the Mozalaluminium smelter nearby is another major development directly linked to the road and its related infrastructure improvement. At the time of its completion in 2003, the smelter was the largest industrial project ever undertaken in Mozambique.
In South Africa, the N4 has led to unprecedented growth in the Mpumalanga provincial capital of Nelspruit. The city now boasts an international airport and would likely not have become a 2010 Fifa World Cup host had it not been for the corridor-related development that had taken place in the last decade or so. The influx of business travellers in Nelspruit has been matched by a similar rise in tourism figures in the region as a whole, and again the N4 can take a large part of the credit for that.
TRAC is also especially proud of the enabling role it has played in the development of the wider construction industry. It trained 11 503 entrepreneurs in construction skills over a three-year period during the initial phase, and provided extensive and dedicated SMME training that has improved the emerging sector’s ability to respond to opportunities in both small and large construction projects. To this day, more than 80% of TRAC’s contractors come from Mpumalanga and the company continues to uplift local emerging contractors, especially women, disabled persons and the youth, through the contracts it awards annually. Furthermore, to stimulate the local economy and afford easy movement, TRAC makes available discount tolls of about R40-million at toll plazas each year.
Caring for the environment is an intrinsic part of TRAC’s social contract with the people and governments of South Africa and Mozambique. From day one of the toll road project TRAC worked with an environmental watchdog committee to ensure that construction activities had the least damaging impact possible on the natural surroundings of the road. The company employed a permanent environmental champion and, under his auspices, conducted an environmental impact assessment before construction began. Thereafter it carefully developed an environmental management plan for each section of the route, including the monitoring of water, air and noise pollution. TRAC has since undergone annual compliance auditing, with no breaches whatsoever having been reported. In fact, TRAC can boast the protection ofhundreds of indigenous trees and saving a red-data fish specie among the many environmental highlights it has experienced. It has also trained many communities and individuals in environmental awareness and its best practices have certainly protected the project against environmental disasters and class acts.
Exciting environmental projects with which TRAC has been involved include specially built fish ladders to enable the extremely endangered Kneriaauriculata, or Southern kneria, to reach their breeding ground in the Junglespruit in Schoemanskloof. In the late 1990s, when TRAC realised that the support structures of a new bridge over the spruit would inhibit the tiny fishes’ ability to swim upstream, its engineers built ladders and resting blocks for the fish so that they could pass unhindered. Studies undertaken since have confirmed that the kneria are crossing the area of the bridge and reaching their spawning ground successfully.
Similarly, construction of the new bridge over the Komati River near Komatipoort was halted for several months to allow critically endangered blue swallows residing under the old bridge to breed and hatch their young. And, when road widening in 1999 threatened a small forest of kiaat (Pterocarpusangolensis) trees, utmost care was taken to relocate these graceful slow-growers.
More recently, in September 2010, TRAC planted about 4 000 indigenous trees, including white stink wood, fever trees, Natal mahogany, black monkey thorn, river bushwillow and marula, along the newly constructed ring road around Nelspruit. It formed part of the ecological rehabilitation of the areas affected by this brand-new road, and months of planning went into choosing specific trees for certain areas and deciding how they would be planted and nurtured.Like the building of the road, the tree-planting project had several technical considerations that had to be taken into account, including the future expansion of the road, issues of motorists’ safety, as well as linkages with existing flora spheres found on site.