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Bridging the Digital Divide – V&A Replacement Swingbridge Takes top Honours at the SAISC’s Inaugural Virtual Steel Awards 2020

Covid-19 has undoubtedly been the biggest catalyst for change in 2020. Industries, organisations and individuals have, out of necessity, been forced to cross the digital divide, embracing technology at an unprecedented pace. Teams have sat wide-eyed in virtual meetings, considering how to adapt their age-old, tried-and-trusted approaches to meet the challenges of the ‘new normal’.

The Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) has remained true to its role of industry champion during this challenging time, focusing on innovation, positivity and creativity – particularly with regards to its flagship event the Steel Awards 2020.

In previous years, the face-to-face Awards drew an average of 900 participants to 3 different regional events in Gauteng, Cape Town and Kwa-Zulu Natal. When faced with the options of cancelling, postponing or migrating to an online event the SAISC and its forward-thinking sponsors chose to innovate.

“We’re facing unprecedented times that call for greater unity, trust and innovation in our industry,” expresses Mohammed Asif Qasim, Co-Founder and Director of Unica Iron and Steel, Main Sponsor of the Steel Awards 2020.

Qasim explains that Unica took up the main sponsorship of Steel Awards 2020 because the company wanted to assure the industry of its support and commitment to growth. “Unica recognized the need to associate with an organisation where our voice is heard by the people who matter. We want to make fruitful contributions to the industry and we believe there is no better platform than the Steel Institute to ensure our voice is heard on key issues, including export tax on scrap, duties on imports and incentives for industry,” he expresses.

With the support of a community of sponsors, the 38th Steel Awards was hosted for the first time ever as an exclusively virtual event on 15 October 2020. The event was primarily live-streamed through an online platform ( made possible by Digital Trailblazer sponsor Macsteel.

“Considering hosting a virtual event was a radically different approach, and the idea was initially met with scepticism from our stakeholders” expresses SAISC Marketing Director, Denise Sherman. “By addressing concerns, exercising creative thinking and adapting our strategy to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, we achieved exponential growth in participants for the 2020 awards event,” she adds.

When compared to the traditional live event, the online Unica Steel Awards 2020 more than doubled audience numbers, and expanded its geographic reach beyond South African borders. Viewers from all over Southern Africa and even as far afield as Kenya, Cameroon, The United Kingdom, The Netherlands and New Zealand were able to see the excellent work on display.

Sherman confesses that she was concerned about how this vastly different approach would be received by the industry. “The stakes were high. The team and I poured a tremendous amount of effort into ensuring the online event would reflect the excellent standard people have come to expect from Steel Awards. Thankfully, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when the comments started pouring in,” she says.

The SAISC has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from its members and other built environment professionals. “The common theme has been gratitude for the acknowledgement of excellence from project teams and hearty congratulations for persisting and innovating even in tough times,” Sherman says.

Chairwoman of the SAISC, Nicolette Skjoldhammer, echoes Qasim and Sherman’s sentiments on the importance of community and innovation. “In these difficult times it is easy to forget how strong we are as an industry and how successful we can be when we work together. It is why initiatives like the Steel Awards are so important to reflect and celebrate members of the industry,” she asserts.

Skjoldhammer believes that if the Southern African steel industry is to survive what will arguably be a few more tough years, both innovation and collaboration are urgently needed from the bottom of the supply chain to the top and back again. “We need to take this adversity and use it as a driver for creativity and creating opportunities,” she adds.

Ingenuity, creativity and excellence were showcased during the livestream event, with the coveted titles of “Overall Winner” and “Bridge Category Winner” going to the team from the New Replacement Swingbridge at the V&A Waterfront.

Situated in South Africa’s oldest working harbour, the V&A Waterfront is a mixed-use development, offering visitors from near and far a world-class experience when it comes to entertainment, shopping, dining and accommodation.

The V&A already had a swing bridge that was well-used and well-loved. It was an efficient structure that opened and closed up to 60 times a day, carrying up to 2.4 million people per year. It was, however, 22 years old: a lifetime in the context of the V&A. The 2 m wide walkway, which once seemed appropriate, could no longer cope with the rising numbers of pedestrians.

Both steel and FRP were considered at the early stages of the project as the only materials that were light enough to limit the loads on the moving mechanical parts and to limit the foundation size. However, as the design progressed the use steel was the obvious choice.

The new swing bridge has a span of 40 m. The deck is cable-stayed with a single plane of 4 locked coil cables connecting to a central, upstand spine beam. The spine beam is a 500 mm wide fabricated box with a total depth of 800 mm, but only 470 mm protrudes above the top of the deck. The reclining pylon is in the continuity of the main central beam and its stiffness transfers the cable loads into the piled substructure. The steel with timber deck is rotated on a slewing bearing, which is stressed down onto a doughnut-shaped pile cap by 34 vertical Freyssibars.

“It wasn’t just about technical engineering, but about design, architecture urban design and peoples experience. Everyone was very passionate about the end product, and because of that a huge amount of effort went into it,” beams project nominator John Anderson, General Function Manager, Structures at SMEC South Africa.

Other category winners and commendations for the Unica Steel Awards 2020 are as follows:

“In the light of the pandemic and related economic pressures which we face in South Africa, the industry’s agility and adaptability was clearly reflected by their enthusiasm and participation in this year’s virtual Steel Awards,” says Paolo Trinchero, CEO of the SAISC.

Trinchero further affirms that without the support of the steel community, this groundbreaking event would not have been possible. “The SAISC would like to expresses its gratitude to all event sponsors including Unica Iron and Steel, Cadex Solutions SA, Macsteel, Safal Steel, Safintra South Africa, the ASTPM, NJR Steel, Stewarts and Lloyds, BSi Steel, Pro-Roof Steel and Tube, and Aveng Trident Steel. South Africa needs a healthy and vibrant steel construction industry, and this year’s highly successful Steel Awards event showcased not only the capabilities of steel as a material of construction – but the resilience of all the amazing people who work throughout the entire sector to promote the future sustainability of our industry,” he concludes.


To request a full press pack with high-resolution images, please contact Denise Sherman on (011) 726 6111