Engineers have slammed government’s decision to bring in 24 Cuban nationals to improve the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure when it should be employing skilled and experienced South Africans.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on Monday that the “highly qualified Cuban specialists” would be working as advisers at provincial and municipal level.
They had been brought in to help train candidate engineers and artisans in mechanical, electrical, civil engineering, and project management, she added.
“Some of the engineers’ core responsibilities include the practical exploration of sustainable use of water resources,” Sisulu said, “[the] maintenance and management of water supply and sanitation infrastructure, and the use of those resources, particularly in rural and other disadvantaged communities.”
Engineers, however, believe the minister should be employing skilled and experienced South Africans to do the job.
According to Consulting Engineers South Africa’s (Cesa) bi-annual economic and capacity survey, the number of local engineers being used on projects had dropped from 95% in 2012 to 80% today.
“This reduction in capacity utilisation, coupled with the large pool of unemployed graduates, begs the question as to why government is importing foreign skills when we already have those skills locally within the private sector,” Chris Campbell, Cesa’s chief executive officer, said.
“Employing highly skilled, locally experienced engineers will provide a more sustainable solution.”
Campbell accused the government of continuing a “fruitless exercise in skills exchange” at the expense of the country’s unemployed engineers.
“It also begs the question why so little has been done to leverage our local expertise and grow our own future capacity over the last 20 years. A sustainable partnership between government and the private sector on engineering capacity development has been on offer by the private sector over the past 10 years.
“Sadly, for reasons unknown to us, it has not been adequately embraced by the ministry of water, sanitation and human settlements.”
Herman Mashaba, president of ActionSA, said the government’s decision had added insult to “the injury of spending R400 million on Cuban doctors to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.”
He told The Witness: “SA has some of the best engineers in the world, who graduate from South African funded universities. Many, as a result of economic mismanagement and the impact of the lockdown, are sitting at home unemployed.
“To import Cuban engineers, who qualified from lower standard universities than our own world-class engineers, is criminal.
“Like the import of Cuban doctors
The Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister for water and sanitation, Leon Basson, meanwhile, wants to know how much money Sisulu’s department will be paying for the 24 Cuban engineers.
The party also wants to find out if an audit was done on what critical skills are needed and how these engineers will make a fundamental difference to the country’s infrastructure problems.
“Over the past 20 years, the South African government has been employing Cuban teachers, doctors and engineers,” Basson said. “However, there seems to be very little, if any, empirical evidence that the Cubans have made a significant contribution that local doctors, teachers or engineers could not have.”
His views were echoed by civil rights organisation, Afriforum, which described the appointment of the Cuban engineers as a “huge waste of taxpayers’ money”, especially since SA had plenty of experienced, qualified engineers and specialists capable of assisting the department.
Afriforum wants Sisulu to provide details of the Cuban engineers’ experience and qualifications, together with a report on water and infrastructure problems in the country and information about where the engineers will be working.
Also critical of the plans is the Land Party, which said in a statement that SA could not afford to prioritise Cubans whilst 80% of South Africans were unemployed “because of poor governance and corruption of the governing party.”