Like many of our readers, I am proudly South African – I acknowledge the struggle and the long road to the freedom and equality we enjoy today.
Whenever I travel internationally, particularly in the US and Europe, I am asked questions about apartheid, and about our inspirational leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. I was happy to engage with an American couple from Haiti recently, who enquired of me what was I doing and what it was like growing up in the 80s and 90s in South Africa. I shared my own personal experience, and I used words like struggle, revolution, and evolution of a nation. To describe more recent times, however, I used words like development, building, healing, unity, rugby, cricket, diversity, transformation and leadership.
Later, when I reflected on this discussion, I found a measure of reflective depth in these questions, not only for me, but for all the peoples of our country.
While the struggle was on and while the revolution was in play: Where were you? What were you doing? What difference did you make? What story do you have to tell? These are sensitive and controversial questions – but indeed very important for introspection for the way forward.
But it is true that South Africa has come a long way since 1994 – a rainbow nation, a new South Africa. And here we are in 2012 – a united nation under the banner of democracy; a land of possibility, sharing, hope and equal opportunity for all.
Where are you? What are you doing? What difference are you making? What stories are you creating?
I am impressed that our government is taking bold steps to focus on infrastructure investment. Have you noticed billboards around the country with images of the State President and infrastructure ministers wearing hard hats and construction clothing, standing in the foreground of construction sites? There are several with President Jacob Zuma, holding a construction drawing, standing on the foreground of a construction site.
At his state of the nation address, President Jacob Zuma said the following:
“For the year 2012 and beyond, we invite the nation to join government in a massive infrastructure development drive. We are going to launch a huge campaign of building infrastructure nationwide.”
Jacob Zuma went on to describe the projects, the budgets allocated, and the time frames within which they needed to be achieved. He also said:
“Government alone cannot solve these problems, but with all the peoples of South Africa working together, solutions are possible.”
The National Development Plan (NDP) issued by the National Planning Commission, talks about rewriting the story of South Africa, and eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. The goals in the plan have a direct demand on engineers, engineering, and civil engineering in particular.
I have mentioned these goals in previous articles. The NDP is now the documented medium-term vision and mission statement for South Africa, and clearly states that all of us must take action to secure South Africa’s future.
The Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan, in his budget speech in February this year, announced a spending of R3.2 trillion for more than 43 different major infrastructure projects – R845 billion for the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework.
So it appears then that we have embarked on a new struggle – another revolution that now relates to infrastructure and industrialisation, and the goals are to be met before 2030. An evolution of a nation through Civil Engineering Infrastructure works – a Civil Engineering Revolution – a CIVILUTION.
A towering South African leader, Walter Sisulu, wrote on his prison cell wall:
“…in a certain sense, the story of our struggle is a story of problems arising, and problems being overcome…”
Solving problems – here’s that theme again.
I have read in the annals of SAICE’s 110-year history of how civil engineers have influenced the direction of South Africa since 1903 – that civil engineers have affected the future of South Africa over the last century through formal intervention in infrastructure planning and development, and socio-economic development and politics.
In this CIVILUTION, when they talk about us civil engineers in the next 110 years, what will they say of us? Will they say of civil engineers who lived between 2012 and 2030 that this was their finest hour?
Where were they? What were they doing? What difference did they make?
We are telling their stories.