By Gerhard Papenfus, 05 May 2021.
Local government in South Africa is literally falling apart. The country has recently been abuzz with reports of local government structures being taken to court for failing to deliver basic services to communities in terms of their constitutional mandate.
In response, government has now enlisted the support of 24 Cuban engineers to assist them in “exploration of sustainable water sources, maintenance of infrastructure, strategic planning surrounding resources and project management”.
Inexplicably, government has, once again, simply ignored the local expertise that is available in all these fields. South Africa is abundant with technical and project management skills, yet government saw it fit to look elsewhere; this emanating from the same government who is pushing for local employment and may soon be refusing work visas for foreigners whose occupations are not listed as a 'critical skill'.
The reasoning that a co-operation agreement has been signed between Cuba and South Africa in the area of water management, and consequently the Cuban engineers having been called in as they allegedly have experience in dealing with their own water management issues, is bizarre. South Africa has some of the best qualified technical individuals, including engineers, in all disciplines. Many of them, as a result of their skin colour, find it difficult to find employment.
It is trite that the most common issues responsible for the failure by municipalities to provide basic services, is the lack of maintenance and oversight on water and sanitation plants. This is as a result of the fact that, in many cases, the water and sanitation supply system, like with most state run facilities, are in a mess due to simple neglect, incompetency and indifference on the part of municipal government and its employees. The 'importing' of expertise is simply a smoke screen to detract from this fact.
The Minister of Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, stated that, while South African engineers would have to be employed - heaven forbid that South Africa, with an unemployment rate of 43%, should desist to create employment for its own people - the Cubans will only be paid a stipend; the lion’s share of the reported R65 million apparently being paid to the Cuban government. Should the largest share not be payable to the Cuban government, the “stipend” that the Minister refers to amounts to approximately R75 000 per Cuban engineer per month, over the three year period.
This is an extremely generous “stipend” indeed, but, at least, government do not have to 'employ' local expertise.
In the same breath, Minister Sisulu has said that the expertise is not available in South Africa, which is clearly hogwash, and that South African engineers do not want to stay in rural areas for three years. These, clearly contradictory statements, are simply indicative of the fact that there is an ulterior motive for this decision.
In any event, the national crisis at water and sanitation plants will not be solved by 24 Cubans; local expertise will have to be utilised on a much larger scale and they are readily locally available. Case in point, the Koster water and sanitation supply services were fixed within a week from being taken out of the hands of government.
We can only assume that the reasons for such blatant disregard for local skills are:
The relevant South African authorities are in possession of lists of people with appropriate skills needed to cure the ills of our failing local authorities. These are qualified and experienced individuals who have been systematically forced out of local government, with the resultant rapid decline in service delivery.
A similar trend is evidenced in every state department and state owned enterprise.
In terms of government’s race-based ‘transformation’ policies, skills are replaced, not by skilled people, but by cronies and cadres. This is the root of South Africa’s ills and unless this is addressed, we will not be able to escape the quagmire we find ourselves in.