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Unpacking the municipal infrastructure delivery systems in Ndlambe Municipality by using a Biomatrix framework


David Lefutso
Kayamandi Informatics (Pty) Ltd

Thembinkosi Semwayo
Ontolligent Services



Ndlambe Municipality is blessed with natural beauty that attracts tourists to its shores and an excellent climate for viable agricultural enterprises development. The municipality is located in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. It comprises the agricultural powerhouses of Alexandria and Bathurst, and the biodiversity rich scenic towns of Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred. Ndlambe Municipality has identified a need to provide a functional world class roads network, bulk water supply, and sewerage infrastructure to meet its citizen’s needs and to facilitate economic growth. Ndlambe Municipality’s vision is:


“[t]o build a growing and investment friendly region that provides sustainable, efficient, cost-effective, adequate and affordable services to all citizens in a healthy and safe environment by 2025. (IDP 2011-2012). Efficient, adequate services, translates to having efficient, adequate infrastructure, i.e. roads, telecommunications, water and sanitation.”


The integral and critical part played by infrastructure in the vision is clearly highlighted. According to the 2011 – 2012 Integrated Development Plan (IDP) review document the developmental vision of Ndlambe Municipality is moulded within the context of the five National Key Performance Areas of the Local Government Strategic Agenda. These are stated as:

  • Municipal Transformation and Institutional Development;
  • Basic Service Delivery and Infrastructure Development;
  • Local Economic Development;
  • Financial Viability and Management; and
  • Good Governance and Public Participation.

Sound municipal infrastructure is a critical vehicle that supports both economic development and competitiveness. Bad infrastructure on the other hand works against any possible investment in the development of the municipality, with investors either not being attracted to invest in the area or leaving the municipal area to invest in areas that have good roads, good potable water and sanitation. Access to funding for both operational expenditure and capital expenditure has been very challenging for the municipality. Our analysis of the situation has revealed a complex set of systemic cause and effect which have militated against the municipality in accessing funds to timely maintain and upgrade its roads and water infrastructure as per the municipality’s IDP and Local Economic Plans (LED). Through the application of a systems thinking approach we have surfaced the major bottlenecks in the system. Key to this is the slow and lengthy process of securing infrastructure capital funding and the internal capacity of already stretched personnel to deal with such bureaucracy.

The roads infrastructure in Ndlambe municipality has for all intense and purposes outlived its lifespan and needs to be upgraded urgently, and in some cases replaced. According to the Ndlambe Municipality’s IDP 2011/2012 Review, whereas in 2005 a Roads Management Programme indicated that the required capital investment was estimated to be in the order of R400 million (for upgrading and to maintain existing infrastructure), the municipality had a budget for road sealing available of only R1.2 million. Current estimates for roads infrastructure upgrade and maintenance are at least R500 million for the next 10 years. The recent flooding in late 2012 has exacerbated the problem and has widened the amount of capital funds required to maintain and rebuild the municipal infrastructure. While the need to urgently upgrade the roads is well appreciated within the municipality, the financial base which comes largely from rates collections is not enough to cover capital development projects. Efforts in the recent past to mobilise funds to upgrade the roads has not borne fruit, and disaster management funds have not made any meaningful contribution in alleviating the collapsing infrastructure.


Broad horizon scan

A broad horizon scan was carried out to get a comprehensive view of the different dimensions affecting and affected by infrastructure developments and different levels of operation. Using the Biomatrix framework we were able to map out the character of trends and opportunities in the infrastructure sector at different scale levels. The Biomatrix framework provides a systems analysis framework premised on the understanding that the world is a complex system made up of inter-related sub-systems (Dostal, Cloete & Járos, 2005). Problems or opportunities at any of the Biomatrix cells tend to be propagated to other dimensions and levels. Table 1 provides an overview of this mapping. For instance, at the continental and national levels there is political push in support of infrastructure development to drive and support economic development through intra- and international trade for African countries. This has led to increased funding for roads infrastructure through development funding vehicles like the World Bank, the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).


Table 1: Ndlambe Infrastructure - Multi-level & Multi-dimensional trends and opportunities matrix

  Political Economic Social Technological Legal Environmental
  • African continent political focus on roads infrastructure development to drive economic development
  • Water as one of the key facilitators of meeting Millennium Development Goals (end of poverty & hunger, child mortality reduction)
  • Increased budgets for road infrastructure to drive economic development (World Bank, ADB)
  • Water supply as a human settlements and business facilitator
  • MDG -Global partnerships for development budgets
  • Millennium Development Goal (end poverty & hunger)
  • UNESCO water infrastructure education & training programmes
  • Use of Biotechnology & nanotechnology in water purification systems
  • Use of solar technology for water purification
  • Use of polymers in road construction
  • Water desalination technologies
  • Internal Standards Organization roads standards
  • World Health Organization water quality standards
  • Climate change and implications on water supply
  • Pollution free water systems
  • Pollution free roads and transportation networks
  • Congestion free road designs
  • Environmentally sensitive roads and thoroughfares
  • Labour absorbing construction imperative
  • The National Spatial Development Framework guidelines
  • Department of Roads: National roads rehabilitation programme
  • Department of Water Affairs: Bulk Water Supply initiatives
  • Municipal Infrastructure Grant
  • DBSA: Funding for municipal infrastructure
  • Department of Transport: National roads rehabilitation programme
  • Department of Water Affairs: Bulk Water Supply initiatives
  • Construction Education Training Authority: Training funds
  • National Skills
  • Expanded Public Works Programme: Temporary employment
  • Labour intensive technologies (concrete block paving, polymers)
  • Concrete and bitumen paving
  • Rehabilitation technologies (for resurfacing)
  • South African Bureau of Standards roads standards
  • Water pollution legislation
  • Environmental impact assessment legislation
  • World Health Organization water quality standards
  • Environmental impact assessment requirements for infrastructure projects
  Political Economic Social Technological Legal Environmental
  • Alignment with ASGISA
  • Provincial infrastructure budget allocation
  • Labour intensive technologies (concrete block paving, polymers)
  • Concrete and bitumen paving Rehabilitation technologies (for resurfacing)
  • Water pollution legislation
  • Environmental impact assessment requirements for infrastructure projects
District municipality
  • Alignment with the Provincial Growth and Development Plan
  • District budget allocation
  • Participation of local communities in infrastructure development
  • Household Contractor Development Programme
  • Labour intensive technologies (concrete block paving, polymers)
  • Concrete and bitumen paving
  • Rehabilitation technologies (for resurfacing)
  • World Health Organization water quality standards
Local municipality
  • IDP
  • Spatial Development Framework
  • LED
  • Rates and taxes
  • MIG
  • Participation of local communities in infrastructure development
  • Labour intensive technologies - opportunity (concrete block paving, polymers)
  • Concrete and bitumen paving
  • Rehabilitation technologies (for resurfacing)
  • PFMA rules & regulations for road construction contracting
  • Polluted river channels
  • Silting water channels
  Political Economic Social Technological Legal Environmental
  • Public, Private Partnerships policy
  • Co-funding infrastructure to support tourism & agriculture development through Public, private partnerships (e.g. Build Operate & Transfer arrangements)
  • CSI, & CETA funding access through Community Private Partnership arrangements
  • Social responsibility programmes
  • Community Public, Private Partnerships programmes
  • Concrete paving
  • Polymer use in road construction & upgrading
  • Application of systems thinking, Foresighting, and Innovation technologies to form & sustain CPPPs
  • PFMA procurement requirements
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Water pollution legislation
  • Environmental impact mitigation through application of sustainability principles
Local Community
  • Participation in IDP process
  • Economic participation in roads infrastructure development through CPPPs
  • Social capital development
  • Application of system thinking, Foresighting, and Innovation technologies to form & sustain CPPPs
  • Skills training facilities
  • Water pollution legislation
  • Water catchment protection
  • Participation in IDP process
  • Work & entrepreneurship opportunities in roads infrastructure development
  • Active member of society contributing to economic development as entrepreneur or skilled employees
  • Skills training opportunities through the CETA


On the water and sanitation infrastructure development front, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) addressing poverty, hunger and the improvement of health outcomes for all have given impetus to the development and upgrading of bulk water supply and sewerage works by nations and the availability of funding from the World Bank and United Nations agencies dealing with health and provision of portable water. At the social and local municipality level in Ndlambe there exists an opportunity to deal with unemployment problems, a technological opportunity in the form of concrete block paving, with the potential to address the need to upgrade the deteriorated roads within the municipality at the same time providing business development and employment.

By scanning up and down the scale levels and PESTEL dimensions one can easily pick up other opportunities of funding for such an initiative in the form of Community, Public, Private Partnerships (CPPP). Such a partnership will broaden access to funding beyond the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) funds and extends it to Community Social Investment (CSI) funds, Department of Social Development grants, Construction Education Training Authority (CETA) funds, and so forth.


Local economic development

The LED Strategy (2009) points out that as much as a wide range of opportunities exist, the positive developmental outcomes are largely not being realised. The document notes the importance of infrastructure in creating an enabling environment for local economic development cannot be over stated, with an assertion that “[i]nfrastructure delivery must be optimized in such a manner as to enhance economic development and sustainability” (Ibid). It is argued in the LED Strategy report that road infrastructure should be viewed as a critical strategic asset. “The road network enhances the accessibility of the municipal area as a tourism destination, whilst also facilitating transport of goods to/from/through the area” (Ibid). Together with adequate potable water and sewerage infrastructure, good roads infrastructure is needed to meet the demands of the local residents, and the influx of holiday-makers and for future expansion of the existing urban settlements.


The complex municipal environment

The challenges faced by the Ndlambe municipality as gleaned from literature and strategic conversations can best be described as wicked problems. According to West Churchman (1967) who coined the term, and, Russell Ackoff (1974), who popularised the concept through its application in management and social development, wicked problems are those problems which despite relentless efforts to get rid of them just simply do not go away. In his book “Redesigning the Future”, Ackoff distinguished between what he called tame and wicked problems. Tame problems are those problems that have simple cause and effect relationships and are easy to solve. These are usually problems of a mechanistic nature where replacement of a defective part solves the problem. Typically wicked problems arise from situations where the cause and effect are not simple and linear, i.e., a case of A causes B. The problems (causes and effects) are complex, which means they are characterised by multi-dimensional causes and effects with several feedback loops and time delays between cause and effect.

For example, inadequate maintenance and upgrade of roads and bulk water infrastructure budgets in Ndlambe Municipality have led to deteriorating roads and bulk water infrastructure conditions. This has led to loss of appeal of Ndlambe Municipality as an attractive tourist, business destination, and trade node (these 3 sectors account for at least 46% of total municipal income). This in turn leads to loss of income for the tourism industry and leads to some tourism businesses closing down. This results in further reduction of the municipality’s rates base and hence a lower budget to work with, leading to less money available to fix the deteriorating roads. See Figure 1 for a full appreciation of the systemic nature of these inter-connected problems.


Figure 1: The complex nature of the Ndlambe municipality infrastructure landscape and its impacts on local economic development


As can be appreciated from the foregoing, one needs to have a complete view of the whole system to appreciate the circular inter-connectedness spaghetti like “mess” (Ackoff, 1974), which results from the various multi-links of cause and effect. Recognising and understanding the patterns behind the mess helps us come up with strategies that dissolve as opposed to temporarily solve a problem. For example the provision of social grants provides a necessary but temporary solution to the challenges of human survival (the State has to continuously source and supply such funding, and the money is usually not enough to cover all basic needs), whereas providing the means to start and run a business that meets a societal need provides an enduring solution. In the latter case, the income problem is dissolved permanently, and the intervention is referred to as high leverage as opposed to low leverage as in the former case.

In order to identify high leverage solutions we can apply systems thinking approach to pick out patterns of inter-connections between the “messy, complex cause and effect” maze. System thinking is a set of theories, principles and practices, that seek to identify and understand the patterns behind inter-connected multiple cause and effect of a given system experiencing problems (Senge, 2006). As a discipline, system thinking provides a set of techniques and tools that enable practitioners to see the underlying drivers that produce specific patterns (sub-systems) of undesirable outcomes. In the case of Ndlambe Municipality, these are the drivers at play in producing the deterioration of infrastructure and the forces that militate against finding enduring solutions to the problem (quick fixes). Figure 2 elucidates the various underlying drivers and resultant connected sub-systems of the Ndlambe Municipality that interact to co-cause the infrastructure and associated local economic development challenges.


Figure 2: Systemic view of the Ndlambe municipality infrastructure and inter-connected sub-systems


By applying the systems thinking framework we identified seven inter-connected sub-systems that interact to produce the undesirable infrastructure conditions and the existing and evolving contaminant impacts on the local economy are identified. We unravelled a pattern that links a high-level external bureaucratic sub-system characterised by slow turnaround times in applying for, and approving projects and budgets. The municipal human resource sub-system is characterised by inadequate financial and technical capacity to access funding and roll out infrastructure projects. The high level external sub-system impacts on the slow and/ or inability to access funding for capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX) budgets by the income/budgets subsystem. Infrastructure projects are thus underfunded or not funded according to the IDP requirements and timelines.

The income/budgets sub-system challenges manifest in the form of inadequate infrastructure development and poor or no maintenance of infrastructure (infrastructure projects sub-system). Consequentially, Ndlambe Municipality becomes an unpreferable and undesirable place to live, work, and visit, thus affecting the vibrant tourism industry and agricultural sectors that are full of promise. When the economic potential is not realised and social problems grow: i) the municipality will experience diminished rates collections, ii) skilled people would decide to leave to live and work elsewhere, iii) businesses will be unwilling to invest in Ndlambe Municipality because of lower disposable incomes, and iv) local unemployment grows and the indigent budget of the municipality will balloon and become unsustainable. These set of negative variables would feedback into the municipal budgets as reduced income and available budgets. Hence, the vicious cycle reinforces itself in a downward spiral.

By applying a systemic perspective one quickly realises that major challenges manifest as patterns which make distinct but connected sub-systems, such as the seven sub-systems identified. The clue to finding enduring solutions lies in high leverage solutions that dissolve challenges in most of the subsystems. This usually involves actions that affect the node with the most connections to and from it. According to Figure 2, and using this rule, it appears that the area of highest leverage is to be found in actions that address the node ([l]imited internal municipal capacity to access infrastructure & other development funding). Addressing this node by a solution that removes this limitation results in the dissolution of income related problems. This in turn will address infrastructure CAPEX and OPEX challenges by dealing with inadequate infrastructure development and maintenance, which will halt the deteriorating municipal infrastructure.

It will be appreciated though that while this might be a high leverage point it is also constrained by the external high-level sub-systems which it has virtually no control over. The external sub-system processes are demanding and slow. The process for applying for and accessing available grants from national and provincial government funding windows to fund infrastructure projects is long, tedious and excruciatingly slow, thus impacting the status of repair of roads, water, and buildings infrastructure on the ground. The best that can be done is to design a strategy that foresees and incorporate time delays in accessing funds or alternatively seek other sources of funding.



The Biomatrix framework provides us with a landscape overview of the issues, trends and opportunities picked up from literature, placing Ndlambe Municipality within a multi-level and multi-dimensional context. The system’s complexity diagrams provides us with the ability to see the patterns of inter-connected drivers and processes, thus providing clues on how best to address and possibly dissolve the internal financial, personnel capacity, and linked external problems faced by Ndlambe Municipality.


David Lefutso

Futurist: Kayamandi Informatics (Pty) Ltd

Read more about the author and his view on being a futurist.



Thembinkosi Dan Semwayo

Managing Director: Ontolligent

Read more about the author and his view on being a futurist.





Ackoff, R.L., 1974. Redesigning the Future: A Systems Approach to Societal Problems. New York: Wiley

Churchman, W.C., 1967. Wicked problems. Management Science, 14(4), 141-142

Dostal, E., Cloete, A. & Járos, G., 2005. Biomatrix. A systems approach to organisational and societal change. Cape Town: Mega Digital

Ndlambe Municipality, 2009. Local Economic Development Strategy. Port Alfred: Ndlambe Municipality

Ndlambe Municipality, 2011. Integrated Development Plan 2011-2012 Review. Port Alfred: Ndlambe Municipality

Senge, P.M., 2006. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (revised edition). New York: Doubleday Publishing


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