It is a misnomer that racial and related economic transformation in the civil engineering and construction sector is not happening. The numbers tell a different story.

Government has consistently invested more than 7% of GDP annually on infrastructure development over the past 8 years, and promises of injections of trillions of Rands into future infrastructure initiatives — all to realise the objectives set out in South Africa’s National Infrastructure Plan (2012), together with the New Growth Path (2010) that promised to create 5 million jobs in 10 years, the National Development Plan and other initiatives. This clearly indicates that the ANC-led administration has embarked on an infrastructure development plan for the overall socio-economic development strategy of South Africa. In doing so, the prospect for racial and radical economic transformation remains opportune.

How then has the sector been performing until now?  

The data shows steady growth in the number of Black built environment practitioners in South Africa.

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)

Data from ECSA, the organisation entrusted with protecting the health and safety of the public by registering engineering professionals, shows that the number or registrants of Black engineering practitioners increased from 35% to 46% in all categories from 2011 to March 2016, compared to a drop from 65% to 54% for White practitioners in the same period. In that time, 9 194 Black professionals registered with ECSA, compared to 2 225 White professionals.

It is well-known in the industry that ECSA and its CEO, Mr Sipho Madonsela, a registered engineer himself, are positive about the level of transformation over the past years, and especially among the young people, including females, from disadvantaged backgrounds — as seen in the figures above. These include engineers, technologists and technicians. Madonsela also reported that in 2016, for the first time in the history of ECSA, the number of registered engineering practitioners reached more than 50 000. ECSA can be proud of the visible effects of registration seen in the industry.

South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP)

The SACPCMP registered 1 264 Black construction project management professionals since 2008. Of the total number registered in 2008 (3 276) only 26% (841) were Black and 74% (2 435) White. These figures in 2016 (4 364), however, show a significant increase to 48% (2105) for Black and decrease to 52% (2 259) for White.

South African Council for the Quantity Surveying Profession (SACQSP)

The SACQSP registered 939 Black quantity surveying professionals since 2011. Of the total number registered in 2011 (3 049), 39% (1 193) were Black and 61% (1 856) White. These figures in 2016 (3 982), however, show a significant increase to 54% (2 132) for Black and a decrease to 46% (1 850) for White.

South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP)

The SACAP registered 2 400 Black and 3 600 White architectural professionals between 2012 and March 2016. There is a general decrease in the number of both Black and White registrants at SACAP from 2014 to March 2015. This is probably due to the lack of architectural project roll-out from the public sector. The gap difference between the race groups, however, has narrowed over the past 5 years, with 266 Black and 332 White professionals registering in 2016.

The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE)

With some 13 000 members, it is the largest engineering voluntary association in South Africa. SAICE CEO, Manglin Pillay, another professionally registered engineer, states that more than 45% of SAICE’s membership is Black. Taking into account South Africa’s history before 1994, Pillay explains, “A more accurate measure of transformation is found in that almost 70% of SAICE’s membership under the age of 36 is Black.

Pillay commends the public sector for driving the transformation agenda through policy. He also divulges, “The irony of Government’s plea for transformation in the sector is that most Black engineering graduates are employed in municipalities, national and provincial government and in state-owned enterprises. But it is in the public sector that coaching, mentoring and technical engineering supervision — which are critical components for the training and development of engineers — are lacking.”

Many local and district municipalities only have junior staff, few of them adequately developed. Many of these are indeed classified as struggling municipalities. As Pillay says, “This is the real challenge. It is not about Black and White any longer, it is all about Experience and Inexperience.”

Pillay comments further, “The sector has work to do on racial transformation, but the current actual numbers show remarkable progress in the built environment, considering that it takes about 10 to 12 years, excluding basic education of another 12 years, for any individual to accumulate the necessary education and training before they are ready to register as professionals. There is no quick-fix solution, but we can build on the existing successes.”

One such success is the work done by the MD of SAICE Professional Development and Projects (PDAP), Dr Allyson Lawless, another professionally registered engineer. Thousands of Black graduate engineering practitioners are now registered professionals through PDAP’s Candidate Academy and Road to Registration programmes. Dr Lawless says, “There is a need to re-engineer local government capacitation and professional development for graduates. Assuming that an applicant with a tertiary engineering qualification can grow into a senior post, without working in a community of expert practice, is a fallacy. Since 2005, a dramatic loss of staff over 50 years of age occurred in municipalities — they would typically have been the strategic planners and leaders, also acting as mentors and coaches. Where senior technical design staff is not available, training should be sought through secondment and tapping into the pool of retirees to offer their expertise until in-house staff have been adequately trained.” Only by doing so, the next generation of engineers will grow into skilled, competent, experienced and responsible candidates capable of filling senior posts.

Issued by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering

Tel: 011 805 5947

Fax: 011 805 5971

For more information please contact:

Nadeena le Tang


Cell: 071 008 2052


Marie Ashpole


Cell: 082 870 9229

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