Annual Forum Papers

Infrastructure Delivery and Employment Creation in South Africa

  • Year: 2000
  • Author(s): Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen

There is a line in the works of an ancient poet that reads ‘The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’2. Scholars have differed on the exact meaning of these dark words. Taken figuratively, these words provide a comparison of the deepest differences that divide economists on the question of infrastructure delivery. On the one hand, many argue for a singular vision of infrastructure delivery, as meeting basic needs, within fiscal constraints. Moreover, that accelerating delivery will require the introduction of private sector management and finances. On the other hand, there is a growing body of literature that is focussed on understanding infrastructure delivery as part of programme for eradicating poverty, reducing income inequality and employment creation. This school of thought prioritises the understanding of social, economic and human development linkages in infrastructure delivery. This paper argues that the delivery of water and sanitation, housing, energy and roads must be assessed through the capabilities they provide, rather than the narrow focus on meeting delivery targets.

Today, development economics has embraced a wider set of considerations, than simply meeting basic needs. Recent studies have suggested that poverty is best understood as the being excluded through “lacking resources” (Townsend P:1985), or the absence of certain “capabilities to function” (Sen A. : 1993). The importance of these emerging approaches – which have many variants- are that they focus evaluation of government programmes away from simple figures towards understanding the wider impacts on society. Moreover, it poses the questions of directly and indirectly creating employment squarely within the ambit of public action.

Drawing on this approach to assessing public action, this paper explores two themes. First, an assessment of the economic impact of infrastructure delivery is provided. This analysis focuses on income security and employment opportunities. In arguing for a wider set of development objectives to be met through infrastructure delivery, the question of whether the public sector has the capabilities to meet a wider set of outcomes is raised. The question of public sector transformation (and in particular the ownership of state owned assets) is then succinctly addresses as the second theme.