A new bridge across the Jukskei River is part of a wider upgrade of public infrastructure that is paving the way for the transformation of Diepsloot into a social and economic hub that is also environmentally sustainable. Sulaiman Philip reports.

Connecting Ingonyama Road with William Nichol DriveThe bridge will complete the connection of Ingonyama Road with William Nichol Drive.By the end of June, residents of the informal settlement abutting the Jukskei River in Zone 7 Diepsloot will have use of a brand new bridge being constructed by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

The R76-million project completes the connection of Ingonyama Road, one of Diepsloot’s busiest thoroughfares, with William Nichol Drive, and includes the tarring of the last remaining gravel stretch of Ingonyama Road and the improvement of road and storm water infrastructure.

The project is part of the ongoing transformation of Diepsloot into a social and economic hub that is also environmentally sustainable.

Nthangeni Mulovhedzi, a development manager at the JDA, says the bridge will be a safer alternative to the main water line pipes that residents have been using to cross the river.

“The bridge will be safer and help to generate more economic activity in the area. We are seeing a lot of private investor interest in the area; as a public entity we share this sense that Diepsloot is a neighbourhood that can work in economic terms.”

The project builds on the earlier phase upgrade of the William Nichol/Ingonyama Road intersection, with both phases following the agency’s “complete street” development policy.

Construction of the new bridgeSome of the construction took place during the rainy season, which required the diversion of the river.Nthangeni explains that a street is envisioned not just as transport lane. Re-development thus also involves upgrading sidewalks, providing street lighting and creating cycling lanes. Landscaping, street seating and other pedestrian infrastructure, as well as the provision of parks where space is available, aims to improve the environment and make it a more attractive social hub.

“We want to create liveable social areas that help build social cohesion. The priority will be pedestrians and cyclists, with all the necessary public amenities. We want to encourage a healthier and active population.”

Eighty-four households were moved to make way for the construction of the bridge. The families, who are now housed in Diepsloot Extension 12, were also living on wetlands on the Jukskei River flood plain.

Finding alternative accommodation for the families was the first big challenge the project faced. “It also pushed the beginning of construction into the rainy season, which required the diversion of the river,” Nthangeni says. “Also the geotechnical conditions of the river meant we had to excavate deeper, to the foundation rock bed.”

Over the three phases of construction the project has created an estimated 300 jobs for local residents, while injecting R3.9-million directly into the local economy.

Nthangeni adds that the formalization of the route over the Jukskei will further benefit local traders. “Local traders were shifted to make way for the construction, but there are formal trading spaces included in the design. There are 72 trader stalls that have been allocated to existing traders.”

Improved mobility and social cohesion will allow Diepsloot’s estimated 160 000 residents to create economic opportunity and build social cohesion in an area where just 5 000 of the 30 000 structures are formal housing units.

The JDA, along with other government agencies, believes that upgrading social infrastructure and better linking residents to centres of economic activity will enable the transformation of the community.