The comedy pretty much writes itself. The Minister of Water and Sanitation thinks that the Washington Accord is an agreement between Cuba and the USA. The Free State MEC for Police, Roads and Transport agrees with the Minister. The CEO of the WRC (Water Research Commission) agrees with them both, and in a twist of absolute bewilderment the gallant CEO infers that the Washington Accord is apartheid propaganda. Oh dear!

But wait, there’s more. The Premier of the Free State says they sought Cuban expertise because South Africa does not have the engineering skills to deal with our development engineering challenges. In other words, our engineering practitioners are capable of building the Gautrain, the soccer stadiums and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, but how dare they interfere with low-cost housing and stormwater drainage – the cheek. The politicians apparently “… consulted widely with the engineering institutions to solicit local engineering capacity …”, but sadly failed. Perhaps the pigeons didn’t arrive. Chest out, the WRC pulls in for the second time like an afterthought, armed with 2005 artillery, and valiantly defends the Minister’s position, expounding why the decision to bring Cubans into the public sector was the best invention since magunyas. Someone should tell them it’s 2015 already.

Arising from the curd of the Cubangate chronicles, is the perception that South African engineering practitioners snobbishly refuse to work in the public sector, particularly in the rural municipalities. I imagine the Minister drew this conclusion from extensive investigation, study and research. To help verify the Minister’s claims, we conducted an exploratory survey of the membership of SAICE, the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) and the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE) – the three largest engineering professional institutions in South Africa. Our purpose was to ascertain whether engineering professionals are well disposed to working in the public sector under suitable conditions. The survey indicated that, of the 1 367 survey participants, 932 (68%) indicated willingness to work in the public sector, 634 (46%) of whom are willing to work in remote rural areas. Someone needs to inform the Minister that South African engineering professionals are not averse to working in the public sector.

In the media melee, the mamparas referred to in my salutation constantly referred to our Cuban colleagues as engineers. In the absence of the Washington Accord as a benchmark, ECSA’s official stance is that the Cubans will need to verify their qualifications and work experience before they can assume the identity of engineer or be presumed to be engineers by their uninformed hosts. The corridor discussion is that they could possibly be registered as technologists and/or technicians. But we will wait for the actual processes to unfold, as the public sector and our general clients are not always aware of the differences between engineer, technologist and technician. In a more recent incident, it surfaced that PRASA’s chief engineer is also not registered with ECSA in any of the categories of registration (confirmed in an official ECSA statement), opening a further can of worms.

Action on such situations will inevitably occur and, particularly in the case of the Cuban engineering practitioners, will continue for some time still. SAICE, for example, currently has some laudable initiatives under way which include being in the process of partnering with MISA (Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent) to assist the Minister of Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs in piloting a project to help municipalities attract and employ experienced registered engineering professionals into municipal structures.

We will keep you posted on activity in this regard. Until then, read the papers and let our politicians entertain you.





  1. Dear Mr Pillay

    While I agree with the general sentiments of your essay, I think your “salutation” to the “mamparas” is equally lacking in the professionalism I would expect of the CEO of our Institution.Your surprising interpretations of what was actually said are not becoming of our profession, and more like the cheap jibes we expect to hear in parliament.

    To illustrate:

    “The Minister of Water and Sanitation thinks that the the Washington Accord is an agreement between Cuba and the USA”.

    What the Minister really said: “The Washington Accord came into being under a hostile relationship between Cuba and the USA, so Cubans would automatically not be covered on the basis of the Accord”
    (National Assembly: Written Reply to Question no 612: 6 March 2015)

    “…, and in a twist of absolute bewilderment the gallant CEO (of the WRC) infers that the Washington Accord is apartheid propaganda”

    What the “gallant CEO” (Dhesigen Naidoo) really said: “…, it is also true that there are (other) protocols to examine and accredit professionals from beyond the Accord signatories. The reality is that we sometimes forget how deeply entrenched the well-propagandized Apartheid era biases continue to be. Biases that dictate that only the West, in particular the Washington-London Axis, dictates what is acceptable and good.”
    (WRC News 2015/06/03)

    I could go on, but would run the risk of also being accused of supporting the importation of Cuban skills.

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