The ANC women’s league (ANCWL) and the country’s department of water and sanitation have spoken out against the harsh criticism meted out by South African engineers over the procurement of 24 Cuban engineers brought in to resolve the country’s water infrastructure problems.
Some South Africans have said there are many qualified engineers in the country, as well as qualified graduates who are unemployed and are better suited for the positions.
In response, acting deputy director-general (DDG) for the department of water and sanitation Leonardo Manus said the 24 Cuban engineers were not here to replace or compete with local South African engineers but they are here to add value to the engineering profession and the country’s water infrastructure needs.
“South African universities have world-class engineering facilities and programmes.
“However, South African universities tend to focus on development, design and innovation while Cuba has historically focused on maintenance,” said the DDG.
Manus said unemployed engineering graduates are also welcomed to apply in the programme. Adding that they too will benefit from the expertise brought in by their Cuban seniors.
Manus said there may be South African engineers able to do the job but the posts were advertised over five time.
“The issue is that most of our local engineers who are qualified do not want to work in remote areas where most maintenance is required. Or those that do cost way more than what the department can afford,” said Manus.
He said the Cuban engineers hold expertise that engineers in the graduate programme will benefit from. Adding that this experience will help graduates become complete in all areas of the engineering spectrum.
The department of water and sanitation brought in 24 Cuban engineers to assist with the country’s infrastructure issues and to share expertise.
In a statement released this month, the department said that the engineers will be seconded to South Africa to enhance and improve government’s efforts on water delivery and related services.
“The highly qualified Cuban specialists will assist as advisors at provincial and local levels across the country, sharing their vast skills in the areas of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, as well as project management,” read the statement.
The statement added that some of the engineers’ core responsibilities will include the practical exploration of sustainable use of water resources, maintenance and management of water supply and sanitation infrastructure, and the strategic planning of those resources, particularly in rural and other disadvantaged communities.
South Africa’s water infrastructure has been a major point of concern.
A study written by the Helen Suzman Foundation found that deteriorating infrastructure as a result of ageing and poor maintenance has been one of South Africa’s biggest challenges.
The foundation’s Michelle Toxopeüs said South Africa’s approach to water infrastructure maintenance is largely reactionary as opposed to preventive, “raising its costs of repair unnecessarily and reducing the functional life span of infrastructure”.
Water resource, water supply and sanitation infrastructure generally follow the national trend of being at risk. Bulk water resource infrastructure is not coping with the increased demand and is poorly maintained – making it at risk of failure, said Toxopeüs.
She added that while water supply infrastructure in major urban areas is satisfactory for now, supply infrastructure in rural and semi-urban settlements continue to be at risk.
“When looking at the state of sanitation infrastructure, including wastewater treatment, there is stark difference between infrastructure in major urban areas when compared to all other areas.
“Sanitation infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas has already failed or is on the verge of failure, potentially exposing the public to serious health and safety hazards,” said Toxopeüs.
She added that sanitation infrastructure in these areas requires immediate action.
Meokgo Matuba, ANCWL Secretary General said it is deeply shocked and disappointed with the negative reaction against the Cuban engineers who were brought in to assist in the Water Sector, especially the rural areas.
The women’s’ league said department of water and sanitation has faced some challenges in hiring local engineers because “very few of our own engineers would possibly opt to go and work in the rural areas because they have families, they have preferences of where to work.”
“As the ANCWL, we are grateful for the contribution that the Cuban cohort is going to play, especially in dealing with the persistent water issue, affecting mostly women,” said Matuba.