08 April 2024

Caption: The R943bn mooted government infrastructure spend is good news for the zinc sector.

In his budget speech on 21 February, the South African Finance Minister outlined the government’s plans to invest over R943 billion in public infrastructure over the next three years to support the refurbishment and maintenance of existing assets and build new infrastructure. The government’s mooted Infrastructure Investment Plan will promote projects in six key sectors, namely energy, water and sanitation, transport, digital infrastructure, human settlements, and agriculture and agro-processing.

The finance minister also outlined reforms aimed to streamline the supply chain, improve efficiency, and ultimately attract greater private sector participation. “Supporting public infrastructure investment, I am proud to announce that as part of this budget, we are introducing fundamental and far-reaching reforms to infrastructure financing and delivery,” he said. Through these reforms, greater efficiency gains and infrastructure delivery will be fast-tracked. This will benefit all sectors, social infrastructure, PPPs, and projects with other finance mechanisms.

“If the South African government actually means what it says, and from past experience we are gravely doubtful, then this is good news for the zinc and galvanizing sectors,” acknowledges Simon Norton, director of the International Zinc Association (IZA) Africa. “To restore our position as a strong, thriving economy, we must grow our employment base and rebuild our deteriorating waterworks, wastewater works and infrastructure.”

As South Africa grapples with infrastructure challenges and the need to resolve these quickly and effective, zinc galvanizing of steel remains a vital tool to protect and extend the life of critical steel structures. Corrosion, the deterioration of steel due to its interaction with the environment, poses a significant threat to the longevity and safety of steel structures particularly at the coast and in corrosive environments such as wastewater treatment plants.

Hot dip galvanising using zinc effectively prevents corrosion by creating a protective barrier between the steel and the surrounding environment. Composed of iron-zinc alloys, this barrier acts as a sacrificial anode, preferentially corroding in place of the steel. In rail infrastructure, railway lines are galvanised as are electric power line poles. Galvanising safeguards steel components from the corrosive effects of moisture and other contaminants.

Power infrastructure, including transmission pylons, substations, and other steel structures also rely heavily on galvanising using zinc to maintain its integrity. Corrosion of these components can lead to power outages, disruptions in electricity supply, and even catastrophic failures when pylons collapse as a result of rusting. Zinc galvanising safeguards these critical structures, ensuring the reliable delivery of electricity.

Beyond its protective benefits, zinc galvanising offers significant economic advantages. By extending the lifespan of steel components, zinc galvanising reduces the need for frequent replacements, saving on material and labour costs. “If engineers hot dip galvanise steel, the capital expenditure is well spent and in the long run much cheaper than repair. Moreover, it minimises the risk of structural failures, which can lead to costly repairs and disruptions to operations,” concludes Norton.

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