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Saice welcomes civil engineering prominence in capacity building, will help ensure sustainable solutions

22 February 2022

Sourced from Engineering News

Industry body the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) welcomes that civil engineering features prominently on the scarce skills list President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to during his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) on February 10, when he articulated the need for capacity building, says Saice president Professor Marianne Vanderschuren.

Employment remains a critical priority for South Africa and for the civil engineering sector. Saice reiterated its call on government to continue to engage the available resources, entities and professionals in mapping out the far-reaching plans that were detailed in the SoNA.

“Saice, with our 15 000 members has the capacity to tap into the knowledge, skills and wisdom to move towards a sustainable, resilient and economically viable future,” she adds.

A major concern for Saice was the minimal reference to maintenance during the SoNA. With a challenged infrastructure, this should be at the top of the agenda, Vanderschuren emphasises.

“The President mentioned that this requires capacity in municipalities. To date, the lack of capacity has paralysed many municipalities, leaving inhabitants without services.

“While government builds capacity, we need interim measures to ensure that civil infrastructure investment and maintenance is monitored or audited. How about identifying infrastructure auditors that assist the municipalities while they build capacity?” she proposes.

Further, Saice would also like to see plans that identify building codes and standards to minimise the need for maintenance, she adds.

“Instead of infrastructure failing three months after completion, why do we not build to last? We need to work on standardisation for durable infrastructure.

“If the President commits to the capacity building and the commitment to education suggested, then scenario planning will need to take place unpacking what different future scenarios could look like, and what the advantages and areas of concern are on the journey ahead.

“This is the type of evidence-based planning that Saice expects and has the capacity to assist government with,” she says.

“As a learned society, Saice is pleased that government has already proactively approached us to support them with the implementation of some of the projects that have been put forward, and we will continue to enhance and take that engagement forward,” states Saice CEO Vishal Lutchman.

He had previously indicated that Saice’s strong network, supported by its platform Saice Connect, means that the institution could assist the State in recruiting technocrats who are primed to guide infrastructure portfolios to success.

“We have made great strides in partnering with the public and private sectors. We have empowered engineers to form connections between entities and this can be leveraged by our government,” he says.

Civil engineering advice

With reference to the use of block paving for rural roads, as mentioned by the President, Vanderschuren cautions that, although there are advantages to using these materials, the risk of floods could easily result in a road washing away.

“The theft of materials, as we see in the rail sector, among others, could also become an issue. Further, the lack of maintenance that we see around the country could result in unusable infrastructure soon after implementation,” she adds.

Additionally, Saice was pleased to hear Ramaphosa speak about climate change and the Paris Agreement. During COP26, funding was awarded to South Africa that has the potential to change the industry.

“However, we must ask what happened between 2015, when South Africa signed the Paris Agreement, and now. The development of South Africa’s renewable energy industry should already have advanced to production in much higher volumes,” emphasises Vanderschuren.

“The President is correct that electric vehicles and the development of a green hydrogen pipeline are on the agendas of many countries around the globe. These are certainly options for the future.

“However, have we properly investigated what this means in the South African context with the obvious challenge of limited electricity supply? Further, if we are going to invest in both, would we then need two types of energy distributions systems and at what cost?” she asks.

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