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Dear Trevor Balzer PrEng, Gisela Kaiser PrEng, and Peter Flower PrEng,

Having engaged with you, Neil Macleod PrEng, Mike Muller PrEng, Mike Shand PrEng, Mike Killick PrEng, Kevin Wall PrEng and Musa Furumele PrEng over the past several weeks, I am proud tobe a civil engineer. I am also aware you are averse to the spotlight,but I am writing you in this way because I know how a word inseason sustains the weary. In our meeting with Premier Helen Zille to offer advice and wisdom on how to manage the effects of the drought in the City of Cape Town (CCT), I noticed the words “I don’t know,”“I am not sure” and similar words of uncertainty that were mentioned 32 times. These did not come from the mouths of the eight civil engineers present.

I also noted how you (Gisela and Peter), with the support ofthe team, addressed the Premier with confidence based on sound and credible knowledge about plans the CCT (you) already had in place. This included ground water abstraction; desalination plans for the immediate and long terms; re-utilisation strategies; agricultural, commercial and general demand reduction; springsand water transfers. You kept your calm and humility, even though you had reason to lose them both. I witnessed the glory of the municipal engineer that afternoon. We had a similar experience with Trevor Balzer PrEng when we met with Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) Minister Nomvula Mokonyanea day later.

We take for granted the 18-hour days you give to manage this crisis, often on weekends, too, working in a politically charged environment led by ill-informed and zealous politicians. We are also aware of the other challenges, like contending with National Treasury’s supply chain regulations, minimal staff (who also deserve our gratitude), business punting products, media – I am quite certain you must have hit some kind of record for the number of emails and text messages you receive. It must take special focus to drown out distractions, to focus and implement the plans you have installed – this you have done and continue to do with distinction. But it all came together when Neil, Peter, Trevor and I,together with the CCT’s Acting Mayor Ian Neilson, who is also a civil engineer, met at Parliament to address the DWS Portfolio Committee, the Minister of Corporate Governance and Traditional Authorities Des Van Rooyen, and Minister Mokonyane.

Neil did the entire profession proud when he delivered our message. He was bold enough to ruffle feathers,but gentle enough to keep a friend. If you recall, he talked about the loss of institutional memory in organisations responsible for water supply, inexperienced management, a lack of experienced engineering professionals in key positions in all spheres of government, ineffective planning and leadership from DWS, poor support initiatives directed at local government, limited use of private sector resources and expertise, restrictive supply chain regulations, political interference as opposed to political oversight, and how all of these contributed to an unfolding crisis in the sector, let alone the drought. The Ministers could do nothing but take the chiding and nod their heads in agreement – SAICE will keep the pressure on them to institute change. Most importantly Neil said, “Because of these engineers, and the plans they have put in place, Cape Town will miss Day Zero this year. But we need to think about the future.”

To me the future is clear – no civil engineers in the public service in the appropriate places of leadership and management, no water in our taps. Since 2011, whenever I am asked for my vision for civil engineering practitioners in South Africa, my conviction is that civil engineering professionals serve society. We are co-labourers with nature and we stand in the gap between good decisions and bad ones. Where there is any work that requires ethical behaviour,
accuracy, diligence, trust, professionalism, reliability and integrity – where the task summons for the services of men and women of honour, the petition should be, “… find me a civil engineer.” If I were asked in 2018 to articulate that vision for civil engineering practitioners
again, I would ask them to come spend a day with you when the heat is on. The Department of
Water and Sanitation, the City of Cape Town and South Africa are fortunate to have your knowledge and expertise. God bless you and your families.

Yours sincerely
Manglin Pillay PrEng
on behalf of 12 000
SAICE members

5 Comments

  1. I hope that the politicians realise how fortunate they are to have the good will and leadership of such a brains trust.

    For too many years politics has overruled expertise and even common sense, and ignored, or even ostracized, the people with world respected expertise in the field of water resources management. Time is running out for us to bring this accumulation of education and experience back into the fold. These civil engineers, and others like them, have two urgent roles, firstly to address the impending water crises (yes crises) in our country and, secondly to pass their accumulated expertise on to the next generation unhindered by political agendas.

    I too am proud to be a Civil Engineer

  2. Thank you for the letter. It is not only CCT, who have problems though – the other municipalities are only not so much in the limelight. Wastewater treatment is in general, a disaster! As you state – loss of institutional memory, loss of expertise and on top of that supply chain regulations that make it impossible to get anything done! This needs to be addressed urgently – start with the supply chain regulations. The regulations are meant to curtail corruption – but they don’t achieve this! The regulations only cause delays in service delivery and a total decay of the infrastructure.

  3. I’m amazed at how often I read about SAICE’s engagements with local and provincial municipalities when other SOE’s/Organs of State are on the brink of collapse as evident in the Infrastructure Survey Reports. I am a registered person practising in the passenger rail industry since graduation and have to date not seen any representatives from our Built Environment Councils at our organization. Notwithstanding Passanger Rail grades hovering between C, D since 2006 intervention by SAICE and ECSA has been minimal if not non-existent where, arguably, it is needed the most. The challenges faced by municipalities, as outlined above, are tenfold worse in the rail industry and I think we forget the what the impact of good/poor passenger rail service has on the economy.

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