MILITARY engineers have completed construction of a life changing bridge over the Xume River that enables access to a clinic and schools during the rainy season.
The new bridge, near the rural Eastern Cape village of Xume near Queenstown, has been hailed by residents as ‘God-sent’.
The bridge is one of three being constructed in the region, and is part of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) realignment to meet the needs of a developmental state.
Last month, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said the military had the necessary skills to help build the country. SANDF spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini, said: “We have more than 200 personnel in the full spectrum of engineering, from road building to dam and bridge construction and architecture.”
Thirty-two members of the Defence Force, mostly from 35 Engineer Support Regiment in Dunnottar in Springs in Eastern Gauteng, set up camp near the Xume River and completed the bridge within a week.
On Friday, while the soldiers laid an engraved stone in front of the bridge to mark its completion, excited locals started using the bridge for the first time.
The soldiers watched in delight as adults, children and even horses made their way over the bridge. Later, a five-ton army truck also crossed the bridge, showing locals just how strong the structure was.
“We want to thank the army for building this bridge. Before, people lost their lives trying to cross the river. Life will be so much easier now, ” said Nosandise Ndabula, one of the women who used the bridge for the first time to attend the Xume clinic.
Pupils in the area also thanked the Defence Force, saying they sometimes couldn’t get to a primary and secondary school because the river was too full. Other times, when they were able to cross, they ended up drenched.
Lutho Gcado, a pupil at the Xume Junior Primary School, said: “The pupils will be able to get to school without their clothes and books becoming wet”.