/ 29 July 2021

Collaboration in the engineering sector is vital for achieving South Africa’s national agenda

South African Minister Sisulu Introduces Cuban Engineers In Pretoria
Deputy Ambassador of Cuba in South Africa, Rebeca Hernandez and Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation sign a document at the introduction of Cuban engineers who will be working on the country's water system on April 22, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. According to media reports, the 24 Cuban engineers will transfer skills and knowledge on water and sanitation. (Photo by Deaan Vivier/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu recently called on engineers to “patriotically contribute” to the development agenda of South Africa. This was part of her keynote address at a virtual seminar hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in June, and has reaffirmed — for me, and for Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) — the importance of our industry bodies and associations raising our hands and offering partnerships with our government.

But, before we raise our hands, perhaps we should be joining our hands. The South African engineering profession is home to countless industry bodies, associations, institutes, and authorities which have somewhat segregated us, causing disintegration. Between CESA, ECSA, SAICE, SABTACO, BBCBE, NSBE, SAIEE (and the list of acronyms goes on), South African engineers are operating in silos — something we have oft-criticised of government departments. 

The South African engineering sector should rather make efforts to present a united front, putting aside our differences and collaborating towards improved service delivery, economic development and transformation. 

This may be more appealing to young engineers too, who are faced with a plethora of organisations to join when starting their career. Under one banner, we could focus on pooling our efforts and put aside any differences between our respective organisations in the relentless race to be heard first and recognised most. Together, we are capable of providing innovative solutions in support of the national agenda and help deliver the infrastructure our citizens deserve — cost effectively and honestly.

I am not suggesting a dissolution of existing industry associations, but rather a reinvigoration of an overarching body that could assist with better coordination of wider sector efforts. One example might be SAFE — the South African Forum for Engineering, which was established some years ago in response to this need for wider collaboration and communication. It became dormant, but perhaps the time has come to revitalise it, or something similar, especially as we aim to unite in support of South Africa’s economic recovery plan. 

I envision that a united engineering industry would be more conducive to the provision of equal opportunities, skills development, mentorship, industry transformation, talent retention and sustainability of the profession. These are all elements that are given attention by individual industry associations, so why not work together as one body on these important goals? A better-integrated profession and industry would be more efficient, effective, and more appealing to stakeholders, including our government. It is confusing and time-consuming for decision-makers to deal with multiple entities individually, when we each share the same objectives.

Jointly, we are capable and competent to provide South Africa with the infrastructure development and maintenance that is much in need.