SAICE and its sister organisations have an adverse view of the first of a total of forty Cuban engineers that have arrived in the Free State. The decision undertaken by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to go ahead with the appointment of the Cuban specialists to implement their skills capacity drive, illustrate once again the DWS’ disregard for local industry body concerns. It brings to the fore the apathy and general disregard for the opinions of industry institutions and highly acknowledged key decision makers. SAICE implores the department to review the Cuban appointments and to invite relevant institutions to fashion alternatives that are more appropriate to the challenges at hand.

It must be clarified that the dispute relating to consultation with the local institutions pertains to sourcing appropriate local solutions, in collaboration with the institutions, in order to relieve technical capacity challenges.

The engineering institutions have direct access to and influence on its members, some of whom have indicated willingness to work in the public sector. SAICE, for example, conducted a survey amongst 380 of its members, 40% of whom indicated their willingness to work in the public sector.  In addition Consulting Engineers SA (CESA) has publicly confirmed that there is currently a 40% under-utilisation of local consulting engineering capacity in South Africa. SAICE confirms that hundreds of graduate technicians and technologists are struggling to find experiential training or sustainable work. This in a country with unemployment in excess of 25%.

According to the results of the SAICE survey, local engineering professionals are willing to work in the public sector on condition that:

·       infrastructure departments should not be politicised

·       technocrats should have decision making power

·       the lack of systems, processes and structures for efficient administration should be addressed

·       development and career paths should be clear, and

·       unwarranted interference by Human Resources and Finances in departments in the work of infrastructure engineering professionals, be stopped

DWS hampering its own vision

Cuban engineering practitioners are not recognised by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), to which South African engineering practitioners have to adhere, as Cuba is not signatory to the Washington, Sydney or Dublin Accords. These Accords are international agreements that govern engineering education and recognition (thus standards), and have a direct impact on South African engineers being sought after globally.

By implication, Cuban engineers should not be allowed to practice in South Africa as they cannot be registered by ECSA. They can also not mentor aspiring registrant graduate engineers in South Africa, according to a law created by the South African Government (Engineering Professions Act 2000, Department of Public Works), which government, i.e. DWS itself, will be contravening .

Furthermore, this initiative goes against the National Development Plan (NDP), which is the medium and long-term vision document for South Africa. The NDP calls for urgent re-professionalising of the public sector. The DWS now spends this money on Cuban practitioners at the expense of developing young engineers, and retaining local engineers.

The real solution to the skills problem

Skills shortage and capacity issues within the department can be addressed through focused efforts to train and develop young engineers, and utilising local, professionally registered engineers, giving them the same monetary and other benefits as the Cubans. It is only through appropriate mentorship and supervision that young graduate engineers will be able to register as professionals with ECSA.

Therefore the argument that the Cuban initiative is an effort to train and develop graduate engineers, technicians and technologists within the public sector by inappropriately qualified, non-registered Cuban specialists, speaking Spanish, is highly questionable, especially in view of the fact that they will be employed for two years.

SAICE, on behalf of the engineering institutions in the country, implores the DWS not to continue with this initiative which is already set to fail, and rather invest in alternatives which actually address the real problems of skills shortage in the department and country. Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE, is outspoken when he says that he would like to see the Cuban engineers sent back home. He furthermore states that government should employ local, registered, experienced senior engineers to avoid another ESKOM and Rand Water situation. South Africa just cannot afford water shedding on top of load shedding!

Issued by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering

For more information, please contact

Marie Ashpole

Cell: 082 870 9229

Tel: 011 805 5953                




  1. Aside from the weaknesses outlines so well by Manglin, I have a very serious moral concern. Wee not paying the Cuban engineers – we are paying the Cuban government, which is then giving them only a fraction to live on. In effect they are being treated as mere chattels of the Cuban regime. So much so that they may not bring family members, nor can they come to join them of their own free will. They are being held in Cuba as virtual hostages to ensure that the engineers come back. To my mind this is little short of slave labour (very expensive slave labour at that). What we are seeing, and funding, is a reversal of the old slave trade, this time with the slaves being shipped into Africa, rather than the other way around. Worse still – we are tainted with paying for it.

    Yes, of course the conditions are much better: airliners instead of slave ships (but the choice of destination is prescribed), no physical chains (but their loved ones live under threat captive on a distant island), they weren’t dragged here against their will (because the small stipend they are doled out by the Cuban government is thought of as fabulous wealth compared to the miserable income back in Cuba) and they are able to breath the fresh air of freedom while they are here (but after a brief respite they are bound to return to the drab and oppressive air of a totalitarian marxist state.)

  2. We need (South) African engineers for African solutions to African problems.
    Many years ago aid from the west came with engineering from the west. In many case it really just didn’t suite the situation. Cubans are a bit different to western engineers but I cant help but think that they álso just don’t fit the present situation.

  3. Non registered professionals are appointed by the government departments in Kimberley. And it seems to be the case throuhout SA. It is time that a special investigating body be initialised with the main purpose of investigating this behaviour and bring the officials to terms with the law.

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