Urgency for large-scale investment in infrastructure has been emphasised repeatedly since President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation speech in February.
Since then, finance minister Pravin Gordhan, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and other cabinet ministers have provided some of the details of the programme. Most notable is the creation of the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating commission (PICC).
Chaired by Zuma, but administered by the department of economic development, the PICC has become the central point for the co-ordination of large projects. Ministers, premiers and metropolitan mayors participate.
The commission has identified projects with a total value of R3,2trillion - which are either in progress or up for consideration. Of this, R844,5bn is budgeted and approved until 2014.
The PICC has developed 17 strategic integrated projects (SIPS) covering more than 150 initiatives. They cut across road, rail and port; dams, irrigation systems and sanitation; new energy generation plants, transmission lines and distribution of electricity to households; communication and broadband infrastructure; hospitals, schools and universities; and regional infrastructure.
Its mandate is to plan a 20-year infrastructure pipeline to avoid the fragmented way that projects have been implemented in the past.
The PICC is an "honest attempt to get things right", says Murray & Roberts CEO Henry Laas. He believes its creation will be good for the sector. The expectation in the industry, he says, is high.
Infrastructure is "like a dam wall that will burst". Once the programme gets going, projects will flood the market, he believes.
Through the PICC, government will also accept an enabling role. It will attempt to deal with disabling factors such as high port charges, high water tariffs, delayed access to land, skills constraints and affordability. It will also work to resolve problems with access to material like cement, steel and bitumen.
PPC CEO Paul Stuiver says initiatives to smoothen the process are encouraging. "There is a huge effort by government to open blockages. It might happen slower than what we hope, but the momentum is there. It is not just talk," he says.
But their comments mask just how bad things have been. Investment as a percentage of GDP is just 19%.
This is from a high of 24,6% in 2008, when infrastructure spending soared in preparation for the 2010 soccer World Cup. Government's national development plan states that fixed investment as a percentage of GDP needs to return to levels of almost 30% for it to contribute meaningfully to growth. Those are levels that were last achieved in the early 1980s.
However, recent figures may reveal the beginning of a turnaround. The Reserve Bank's quarterly bulletin released in March shows that gross fixed capital formation - a measure of investment in the economy - increased to 7,2% in the fourth quarter of last year from 5,9% in the previous quarter. Spending by both general government and public corporations grew, it reveals.
Nedbank's biannual capital expenditure project listing confirms a slight uptick in new projects. It says 60 new projects (with a value of R20m or more) worth a total of R77bn were announced last year. This is an increase from R60,1bn worth of projects in 2010, but it is lower than R89,2bn for 2009.
Of these, just eight, valued at R16,9bn, were announced by government, while state enterprises announced just three projects with a total value of R1,6bn. This is far too low for government to sustain the levels of economic growth that it hopes to.
The private sector, on the other hand, accounted for 76% (R58,5bn) of new projects announced last year. The mining sector alone announced 13 new projects worth R37bn, the strongest since 2007.
New public-sector projects will be critical. The infrastructure programme has the potential to boost ailing sectors like manufacturing, and pave the way for development. Positive sentiment has created a sense of expectation but, on its own, won't be enough to lift SA's sagging economy.
Laas believes that private spending on infrastructure will only improve convincingly once government spending takes place.
Though the construction sector has welcomed government's increased commitment to higher spending, disillusionment with alternative methods of funding like public-private partnerships (PPPs) has grown. The freeze on the national toll roads programme, the cancellation of prison PPPs and protracted delays with hospital and other PPPs have made contractors wary.
Companies have expressed frustration with abandoned processes and policy flips. Moreover, the money that they pump into tenders has been wasted. Basil Read, which is part of the consortium that won the tender to build the R10bn N1/N2 winelands toll road, had been working to win it for over 10 years. Government's freeze on all new toll roads makes its future uncertain.
Despite his frustration with cancelled PPPs, Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns says they are still an excellent way to invest. The private sector has the skills and banks are willing to commit finance. Moreover, the SA government is still seen as having a good track record, despite its recent handling of the tolling debacle.
M&R's Laas affirms this by saying government's infrastructure programmes cannot happen without PPPs.
"Recent experience with PPPs has not been good. We have spent tens of millions preparing tender proposals which, in some cases, have not even been opened. But with limited state funding, they will have to be an option in one form or another," he says.
In principle, government has not abandoned them. But no projects have left the drawing board in recent years.
Transport & logistics group Transnet, for example, intends to use the PPP model as a means of financing the huge investment required to turn Durban's old airport site into a dig-out port. It also intends to concession its branchlines to the private sector.
Private energy projects have increased dramatically with the introduction of the department of energy's renewable energy programme.
And despite a five-year delay, government still says its Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital PPP will go ahead - though it is unclear when that will happen.
The tolling debacle has also raised questions about the user-pay principle that goes beyond just roads. How other infrastructure will be financed is a question that the industry is afraid to ask.
Economists like Investec's Annabel Bishop believe government's opinion of the capabilities of the private sector is limited. The authorities have acknowledged its "complementary role" and its contribution to improving the efficiency of projects. But this is insufficient.
"Government needs to step back and stop micro managing. Inadequate managerial capacity results in monies earmarked for infrastructure not being spent, while high levels of corruption cause obstructions."
Problems that include a lack of financial and technical capacity have been a particular concern at municipalities, where investment has slowed to a trickle.
Though it may be smaller in scope, investment is bound to happen at local government level. The municipal and provincial infrastructure backlog runs into hundreds of billions of rand, and its assets are fast deteriorating.
At national level, government's efforts to set large projects in motion are expected to yield results fairly soon.
The view of consulting engineers, who begin work on projects far earlier than contractors do, are more positive about the infrastructure programme. Richard Vries, CEO of engineering consulting firm GIBB, says his industry is higher up on the production chain.
"We conduct the planning elements of a large construction project between 12 and 18 months before contractors are called in to tender for them. The general market's response to infrastructure is therefore a delayed one."
Vries says he has experienced an increase in calls for proposals, especially from the public sector. He is "cautiously optimistic" about the sector's growth plans.
The PICC's work on developing the 17 SIPS has brought a sense of comfort to industry about government's capacity to implement its infrastructure programme. One can also see that lessons learnt from past projects are being heeded, says Vries. Technical capacity is being built within government to carry out the projects.
Centralised decision-making is also encouraging. Vries says SA's success during the World Cup came from its ability to make decisions, and make them quickly. With the president as chairman of the PICC, the political will to embark on a programme of this magnitude exists, Vries says. These factors make the infrastructure environment look good at face value. The PICC's SIPS are multidisciplinary and encapsulate a broader vision for national infrastructure.
With political support from public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba, spending by state enterprises on their capital investment programmes has a better chance of going ahead.
They have lofty ambitions. Transnet's R300bn capex programme, which will span five years, is aimed at turning the ineffective rail network around. Expanded capacity and new equipment at SA's ports are also on the cards.
The Passenger Rail Agency of SA's planned replacement of its rolling stock, a R123bn exercise, will reinvigorate passenger transportation. New signalling systems and refurbished station platforms suggest that the entire system is up for an overhaul.
At the same time, investment by state and private enterprises in the energy, water and telecom sectors - illustrated in this report - have already increased.
The results could be widespread. Improved infrastructure will feed into broader economic growth and development. Moreover, black economic empowerment, the localisation of content, skills transfer and the consequent increase in the employment rate are key government objectives that can be achieved through an effective infrastructure investment programme.
But will implementation live up to the high expectations that government itself has set? The alternative is a lot harder to contemplate.