Media release: 26 August 2016

Priority scarce skills ? building bridges to span civil engineering gap

Very few interventions or career days have the advantage of practically illustrating what a career is all about. The finals of the very successful annual SAICE International Bridge Building Competition 2016, organised by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), is such a competition. It was held at the St Alban’s College in Pretoria on Friday 26 August 2016. A milestone has been reached as this was the 25th year of providing learners with the opportunity to experience civil engineering first-hand!

This year’s finalists came from as far afield as Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Empangeni, Harrismith, Kimberley, Knysna, Lusikisiki, Mtata, Pietermaritzburg, Queenstown,  Upington, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, to do battle with the local Pretoria team

And, the winning team came from Brackenfell High School in Cape Town with a bridge carrying a weight of 209 kg before breaking. This team consisting of Dewald Mouton, Gert Oosthuizen and Philip kleynhans built a bridge weighing 220 g. Ultimately, aspects such as aesthetics, the mass of the bridge and the weight-bearing capacity determined the winning bridge. Their total score was 198,5.

In the second place was the St John’s College team from Harare in Zimbabwe with their bridge weighing 210 g and withstanding 179 kg. This bridge received a very high mark for aesthetics placing their bridge second ahead of the team’s bridge that withstood a higher weight than theirs. The team members were Daniel Pascoe, Ashil Ramjee and Kyle Mathiesen. The total score came to 180.The team from HTS KImberley took the third spot with their 225 g bridge that withstood 189 kg before breaking. The team had Byron Poulton, Cheswin Cloete and Anthony Hay as its members. The total score was 176,4.

Approximately 600 schools from across South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are reached to determine who the finalists would be in this exciting competition. The finalists from all the regions, organised by the SAICE Branches countrywide, competed for the much sought-after trophy in the form of a bridge, the substantial cash prizes for team members and their educators.

On the day …

An informative presentation by Charl Smit, a civil (bridge) engineer from AECOM, on the stresses and strains to be taken into account when designing a bridge, preceded the action. Each team consisted of three learners from Grades 9 to 12. The bridge building kits contained 25 dowel sticks of 3mm nominal thickness, glue and a piece of string. Construction had to be done according to a technical briefing. The teams then got down to the gruelling business of planning, designing, measuring, cutting dowel sticks and constructing the bridge by gluing everything together to form sturdy bridge structures, while racing against the clock! Tools down! And then, the meticulously constructed bridges had to be left to dry. Once ready, the adjudicators completed their task regarding bridge aesthetics and mass. The teams, after having exchanged daytime T-shirts and tracksuits for school uniforms, gathered in the auditorium for an evening of nerve-racking testing of their bridges. Excitement mounted, hopes soared and some dreams were shattered as one team after the other brought their bridges forward for testing on the rigg. Each and every bridge was tested to destruction to ascertain its weight-bearing capability.


The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) initiated the bridge building competition in 1991 to further high school learners’ use of Mathematics and Physical Science to grow the profession. It has since become an enormous success. The bridge building competition forms an integral part of some schools’ activities and is recognised on the same level as academic or sports achievements.

Because of its practical and hands-on nature, this event is SAICE’s most successful initiative in attracting learners to civil engineering, as well as promoting a general awareness of the profession. The competition provides an ideal career guidance opportunity. It gives learners the opportunity to also build bridges between people, cultures and countries!

Although there could only be one winner, all these learners benefited by participating and being in a big city. Many learners even experienced a first time flying in an aeroplane – never to be forgotten! Getting to meet other people and learners from all corners of South Africa, as well as from Swaziland and Zimbabwe, provided an added advantage, all of which was made possible through the generosity of the sponsors, AECOM, SANRAL, RICHEM, the glue sponsor, and WorleyParsons..

This initiative, in support of government’s objective to address the priority scarce skills situation in South Africa, with civil engineering as the second scarcest skill on government’s draft list, has captured the imagination of learners since its inception and has led to many choosing civil engineering as a career!

Issued by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering

Tel: 011 805 5947

For more information please contact:

Marie Ashpole on 082 870 9229 or 011 805 5947





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