Clever black people, like the obtuse politician, shall always be among us.

Over the past few weeks I contemplated the intrinsic disposition of engineers. The premise upon which Civilution is founded, assumes that all engineers are ethical, professional, innovators, are servants of the disenfranchised and are custodians of the natural environment – that we are in the redemption strategy to restore fairness, order and balance. But I’ll philosophise about this next month if I am not distracted by an obtuse politician. 

For this rendition, however, I want to mull over transformation. Together with politics, racism and apartheid, transformation is one of those hot potatoes engineers find too hot to handle.

I was fascinated to read in prominent media that, for the masses, party selection for the elections was based on skin colour, and not performance or capacity to deliver. But the elections are over and South Africa has chosen to return to the same old restaurant that served us burnt steak, simply because the paint colour on the building is comforting and burnt steak is familiar cuisine. 

Having said this, I cherish our democracy, nationalism and the liberty to choose our government, to enjoy abundant cultural and natural capital, freedom of expression and equal economic opportunity for all – benefits liberally dispensed over us, but stingily denied to others in lesser egalitarian societies around the world. The Economist of 3–7 May 2014 accurately expresses my sentiment on our election outcome: “South Africa is a better place than in 1994, but it is going in the wrong direction.” Trevor Noah is a prophet. 

Just before the elections, Fikile Mbalula, mighty Minister of Sport, in the interest of transformation and 'plural development', announced imposing a 60-40 quota system, favouring black players in our national sports teams. Some clever white people tackled the Minister saying that this was racial discrimination that infringed on the dignity of young people, and that racism is against the policies of international sporting authorities. They also articulated to the Minister that quotas are against the Employment Equity Act and our National Constitution, and are therefore unlawful.

The repentant Minister made a screeching U-turn after the elections: “I am not imposing any 60-40 onto anybody. I am not going to sit as a Minister in government and ignore South Africans that have concerns about the positions we've taken… at least I know what to do next."

Haibo! You mean you didn’t consult our sporting bodies before rubbing your magic lamp? I was disappointed with the Minister’s change of heart. I had aspirations to try out for the Bokke. But how’s that for a shrewd tactic to win votes by a not so obtuse politician.

Transformation is an absolute imperative. Under apartheid, race was used to control access to our country’s resources and to education. Based on this history, and despite 20 years of freedom, our operational social and economic circumstances still inhibit a vast majority of our people, particularly black people, from actively engaging in free enterprise and becoming skilled. But I opine that the strategy in which we achieve transformation needs intervention. It should not be divisive, but inclusive of all South Africans. It should aim to keep us at the front of the African economy. Not second.

Our very own beloved ECSA, whose honourable purpose is to represent government (and not industry) and to protect public interest, is an example of how not to achieve transformation. Recently ECSA instructed SAICE, as the VA (voluntary association) promoting the interests of the civil engineering discipline, to nominate up to 20 HDI professional engineers to serve on the Professional Advisory Committee for Civil Engineering and as Panel Members at Professional Reviews. This is impractical. ECSA also made an embarrassing U-turn and retracted after some fuss. Sounds like obtuse politics.

Allyson Lawless and SAICE have produced internationally acclaimed studies on actual numbers of engineering professionals in South Africa, and these studies advise transformation strategies. I found these exceptional reads in my own study on the factors affecting the development of black South African civil engineers.

At SAICE we have positioned ourselves as the professional voluntary association of excellence and choice in Africa. We strive for excellence in service delivery to our members, excellence in technical leadership to the public sector, excellence in learned society activities, and being national PR for civil engineering.

Quite frankly, SAICE is not distinguished for its affinity towards gender or race, i.e. white or black engineering professionals. We are a home for all clever people who strive for excellence in civil engineering, irrespective of gender or political persuasion, race or faith. Our transformation policy is distinction and excellence in civil engineering.

Any civil engineering professional who wishes to be associated with excellence and a world-class institution, the doors of SAICE are welcoming and open for you.


  1. I like your message, but it’s the humility factor that is missing. Christ was also direct but humble

  2. That is who we are – our members.
    And that is what we do – serve our people.

  3. I get the feeling that the dear Minister has “unfriended” the sport community at large with this and simular retoric in the past.
    Rather than issuing more rules, that can’t be applied, why doesn’t he and the Minister of Higher Education (see GOVERNMENT GAZETTE 37678 on the scarcety of engineers in general and civil engineers in particular) rather think of incentives to persuade Engineering companies to put their considerable weight behind a national bursary scheme to start training young talented people, irrespective of race and social standing, to push Engineering down the list of scarce skills.

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