South Africa’s engineers have to rethink their identity and be more conscious of their actions to help put the country on a sustainable path, Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel said on Monday.
Speaking at the 2014 Civilution Congress, in Kempton Park, he pointed out that most engineering work was done on a commission basis and, therefore, engineers sometimes did the work that they were contracted for without necessarily considering the long-term impact it would have on the country and the environment.
Manuel added that, in the past, when a lot of South Africa’s engineering work had been undertaken, sustainability did not matter as much as it did today. Therefore, many of South Africa’s industries were built on the availability of coal, without considering the impact of carbon dioxide emissions.
“We built an entire industry based on low-cost energy, but the world is shifting,” he said, noting that people had to “unlock their minds” with regard to how they interacted with the environment.
Manuel said engineers had to consider the quality of life desired by the South African people and issues such as access to electricity, education, reliable transport, employment and a clean environment, and, thereafter, decide how to achieve these goals.
“If we recognise [the need to provide people with a decent standard of living] as important, Civilution must award engineers the opportunity to think about how [to] get there,” he stated.
Manuel said South Africa was, to some extent, currently “resting on its laurels” as its great infrastructure endowment, which included its airports, heavy-haul railway lines and the “Dolos” harbour wall design, was established more than 50 years ago.
Therefore, current engineers had to ask themselves “where is the current innovation of the moment?”
He explained that this could be done by considering what the country owned, namely its mineral resources, and how those resources were mined and could be sold to pay for necessary upgrades.
Manuel pointed out that the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act stated that South Africa’s mineral resources belonged to all, adding that the National Development Plan (NDP) included the country in the discussion on how these resources could be used for infrastructure expansion.
Engineers also had to consider where they wanted the country to go in the longer term, as was envisioned in the NDP, he said, adding that South Africa could not have the breakdown currently taking palce in the platinum mining sector if it wanted to achieve its goals.
Besides re-evaluating the manner in which South Africa dealt with its labour challenges, the country also had to rethink its regulatory environment, funding regime and security of energy supply, Manuel added.
“We need to rethink how we deal with certain issues [to reach the country’s preferred future],” Manuel concluded.
Edited by: Tracy Hancock