In its current webinar series on Protecting Lives and Livelihoods, Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) recently hosted a panel discussion to address how the state’s technical capacity can be improved and sustainable solutions implemented to deliver tangible long-term benefits. The concepts of skills development, sustainable change and public capacity to implement infrastructure development effectively were discussed.

CESA engineering skills for infrastructure

The development of infrastructure in support of the country’s economic reconstruction and recovery requires greater state capacity and the building of skills at every level.

Chaired by Danielle Petterson, editor of Water & Sanitation Africa, the panel included:

  • Ntandazo Vimba, Chief Executive Officer, Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA)
  • Cas Coovadia, Chief Executive Officer, Business Unity South Africa
  • Professor Dirk Kotzé, Lecturer, UNISA Department of Political Sciences
  • Refilwe Lesufi, Founding Owner, Prana Consulting
  • Dr Gustav Rohde, Chief Executive Officer, Zutari.

Lesufi kicked off the discussion citing the current challenges South Africa faces in the development of sustainable infrastructure. Prominent on this list was the issue of available skills. “Professional engineers are leaving the country, young engineers are disheartened and leaving the industry, and this impacts the ability of government to engage in long-term planning and across institutions.” She said there are huge opportunities to create the skills the country needs by combining education, experience and training initiatives. “We have the power to create the required skills,” she said.

In agreement with Lesufi, Coovadia raised a concern in highlighting the case of the SANDF’s procurement of Cuban expertise for military equipment maintenance. “This is something government should not allow. Considering our rate of unemployment, it is mind boggling that we could not train our own people with technical courses to fill this role.” He said the first question that should be asked when procuring skills or services is whether we can procure these locally. “Failing this, the question should be: ‘Can we train the right people for the job?’ This will ensure that transformation and inclusion are top of mind.” Coovadia emphasised that the sustainability of businesses and the economy depends on transformation and inclusion. “It is not a social or CSI issue; it is a hard economic and business concern,” he said.

Tackling the topic from a wider perspective, Vimba suggested that poor collaboration and coordination internally and across the three spheres of government, as well as business and civil society, undermines South Africa’s ability to execute sustainable development. “The District Development Model should go some way towards addressing this,” he said. The model aims to improve the coherence and impact of government service delivery with a focus on 44 districts and eight metros around the country. These are to serve as development spaces that can be used as centres of service delivery and economic development, including job creation. Vimba also highlighted climate change as another challenge facing South Africa. “Infrastructure solutions need to take this into consideration. Further, our limited resources mean we must be innovative and be willing to try new ways of doing things.”

Dr Rohde highlighted the existing capacity in South Africa – consulting engineers who are eager to provide expertise to see the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan succeed. “As infrastructure consultants we have a huge role to play in the design, delivery and maintenance of infrastructure. We cannot allow this critical programme to be hijacked by corruption or poor implementation.” He said CESA members are aligned to a strong integrity policy and are committed to sustainable development initiatives.

On the topic of funding, Professor Kotzé posed the question of who should be responsible for infrastructure development. “At the moment there seems to be no answer to this question, and it should be addressed systematically.” He says funding currently appears to come one third from the private sector and two thirds from the public sector.

Promoting South Africa as an attractive investment opportunity was a theme on which all panellists agreed.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.