“… there are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people. And I think the time has come for us toconsider, in the light of our experiences … whether the methods we have applied so far are adequate.”(Nelson Mandela, 1961)

It has been accepted in international leadership circles that the South African Constitution is arguably the best in the world. The recent ruling of the highest court in the land on the Zuma-Nkandla saga is evidence that our democracy works. Parliament has made a mockery of it, but this country – with its people, its natural heritage, its future – is worth fighting for.

I like the fact that civil engineers are an unpretentious people, and that the civil engineering profession is clothed in modesty and wisdom – that we don’t aspire for pedestals to orate greatness, or pilot flashy carriages, or dress in splendour, or stand before cameras to cut ribbons. Our reputation manifests in our honest work, and our worth in the delivery of value for money.

But our friends and partners must not mistake meekness for weakness. While we may not dance to the rhythm of stampede, or chant with the reverberations of a mob, we, too, are quite capable of revolution. Our revolution is an introspective assessment that finds manifestation in the intellectual space, and its ultimate materialisation is in socio-economic wellbeing. This introspection, however, needs to find other platforms of expression, too, for evil triumphs when good people keep quiet.

This is not aimed at all public sector departments, for some have shown evidence of sterling effort, but others are deserving of rebuke.

I am fed up of our professionals being dictated to by suspect politicians and incompetent administrators on work that falls under our custodianship. We should move for all infrastructure engineering ministries at national, provincial and local government (DWS, DOT and DPW in particular) to be run by politicians who have post-graduate qualifications relevant to the built environment.

With the establishment of the NDP, the PICC and the 18 SIPs, it is clear that our leaders have adopted an infrastructure development plan for the overall strategic economic development of South Africa. As we represent the component of the private sector that is central to achieving these development aims, we want to talk to a client that is appropriately qualified, and adequately informed about the work we do. The time for a professionally registered civil engineer with 20 years of work experience to take instruction and direction from incompetent public officials, to hustle for invoices to be paid, and to deal with loop-holed procurement and SCM – is over.

We, too, have to stop selling our birthright as infrastructure engineering professionals who, having worked hard to earn our positions, relinquish our status for fear of the dynamics of master-servant relationships, rather than focusing on maintaining value for money in the delivery of projects through ethical impartation of our knowledge and scarce skills. Next time you sit in a project meeting with an incompetent client who starts to get arrogant with you, and you know that your argument is sound, make a point of sermonising your client on who the professional in the room is, who has the track record, and who is responsible for the professional risks associated with the project.

I have noticed that since President Zuma recalled Minister Pravin Gordhan to restore the financial dignity of our country, the President has been somewhat quiet in the public relations space. I can just imagine how the conversation might have gone down at the Union Buildings.

Pravin Gordhan, being a humble man, would have simply stated, “Mr President, I am honoured that you called me to assist, and I am delighted to assist.” After a three-second contemplation, pursed lips and a gentle crease on the forehead, Mr Gordhan would have leaned slightly forward and said, “But Mr President, if you want me to do this job, I need to be forthright with you.” After a pensive nod of approval from the distressed President, Mr Gordhan would have continued, “Sir, you have had your chance and you stuffed it up – in fact you have made a mockery of our economy. If you want me to do this job, I need you to sit quietly. Don’t do anything! Sir, let me take charge and I will do my best to fix this for you.”

I appeal to all civil engineering professionals to be determined in the plight of delivering value for money. Our industry is sitting on a ridge – a time of challenge and controversy. Our actions now will determine how we are remembered in history. During World War II Winston Churchill prophesied that history will deal gently with him, “… because I intend to write it!” Let us civil engineering practitioners across this country resolve to be the masters, and not the victims, of the history of civil engineering in South Africa, and take control of our profession. Our role to take charge of our profession has never been more pressing than it is today. This is Civilution.



  1. Excellent oration, as always, Mr Pillay.
    Individuals cannot make Civilution happen, it has to be a collective and orchestrated effort.
    Unfortunately this was criminalised a short while ago.
    Now what?

  2. We’ve just been appointed on a project where we are being instructed by Department officials to include in the Contracts conditions that annul fair play of contracting and the Engineer’s impartiality. …overturning decades of input into a balanced CIDB compliant Contract document.

    When we reject the work another steps in. We need this unity and loud voice with consequences to make client think twice about overriding professional conduct and mandate.

    Mr Pillay you’re right on point.

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