Zutari, formerly known as Aurecon, was officially launched in July 2020 as a ‘proudly African’ company with the renewed intention of delivering fit-for-purpose infrastructure solutions in close partnerships with clients across the continent. Zutari CEO, Gustav Rohde, outlines the company’s Africa vision.
The African continent requires a minimum of US$130-billion annually for infrastructure development and preservation. Highlighting this number recently, the African Development Bank also pointed out a financing gap of around US$68–$108-billion.
On 10 July, the ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee officially launched a discussion document titled Reconstruction, Growth and Transformation: Building a New, Inclusive Economy. This proposes a massive, infrastructure-led economic recovery that will include expanded public-private partnerships and a strengthening of the District Development Model at local government level.
Earlier in June, African Union Chair President Cyril Ramaphosa underlined the importance of infrastructure as a growth driver at the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium of South Africa (SIDSSA) in Sandton, Johannesburg. He said that SIDSSA represented “a new beginning for infrastructure development – a new beginning that promises inclusive growth, development, transformation and, above all, hope for a better tomorrow for all our people.”
Barely a month after this historic symposium, a ‘new’ player is auspiciously launched in the infrastructure space. A company whose primary focus is Africa and which believes all infrastructure projects must be engineered to have an impact.
Zutari CEO Gustav Rohde is quick to point out that the ‘new’ company is really one of the oldest in the industry on the continent. Formerly known as Aurecon, it was the merger of Africon, Connell Wagner and Ninham Shand in 2009. The latter can trace its history in Africa back to 1932 – operating for almost nine decades.
In October 2019, the owners of Aurecon Africa took the bold step of deciding to demerge from the global business, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. The process subsequently culminated in Zutari, a name is derived from the Swahili for ‘invent’ and ‘nectar’, namely mzulia and nectari.
Back then no one could have predicted that the beginning of 2020 would see the emergence of a global pandemic, with COVID-19 having a devastating impact at macro-economic and community levels. Rohde, however, highlights that in September 2019 management could already see the winds of change pushing back against globalisation.
“We could see the market changing, and so decided to demerge from the global company to be proudly African. It is interesting how the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards localisation, especially as borders remain closed and international travel continues to be restricted. The fact that we are a private, management-owned company with African owners makes our commitment real – we have a vested interest in our clients’ success.”
It answers the question of whether launching a new company in the current business environment is either an audacious or a risky move. Instead, it is the culmination of a well-planned journey towards Zutari, which is committed to Africa because it believes passionately in its future.
About 75% of its nearly 2 000-strong multi-disciplinary employees are professional engineers, technologists or scientists. “I think there are very few companies that can match our local capacity, long-standing presence and understanding of the challenges required to operate successfully across this continent,” stresses Rohde. It is this deep skills base and long-standing presence on the continent that Zutari taps into to make a tangible difference in Africa.
“It is all about making a difference. This refers to responsible infrastructure projects that generate employment and improve local communities,” he explains. Zutari aims to achieve these goals by partnering with its clients in a process of ‘co-creation’ to derive at “joint solutions that matter.”
Elaborating further, he says: “We work in conjunction with our clients, rather than going away and designing what we think to be the answer and then presenting it as a fait accompli. Here it is important to factor in the social impact of design.
“Ultimately as engineers we are trained to focus on the technical aspects, but our solutions have both a social and an environmental impact. The best way to embrace these is through co-creation, where we also look at the end user of infrastructure to deliver impactful engineering.”
Infrastructure development must also be sustainable, which is why Zutari is a leading player in Africa in renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind power. Rohde stresses that true sustainability for any asset owner or operator focuses on responsible development.
This includes social and environmental factors, as well as embracing appropriate new technology. “It is also about well-rounded operations and a safe and motivated workforce.”
The ‘new normal’ ushered in by the COVID-19 crisis saw the entire company using its digital technology investments to transition successfully to remote working in March – a week before the hard lockdown came into effect. Zutari is now uniquely positioned to take on the challenges of working in Africa, where many project sites are remote and access is difficult.
As a final message, Rohde asserts that the new company will focus exclusively on “solutions that are appropriate for the continent. What might be feasible for highly-developed markets such as the US or Australia may not necessarily be affordable, let alone viable here. It is our vision and our commitment to achieving the full potential of Africa.”
Rohde sees the main infrastructure deficit on the continent as revolving around basic amenities such as water and wastewater services, transportation and energy.
“Infrastructure has been rightfully identified as a catalyst for growth and development. Many global companies who attempt to enter the African market do not know the best way to tackle its problems. We are right there at the coal face, where we can make the biggest impact possible,” Rohde concludes.