South Africa will welcome 24 Cuban engineers at a ceremony in Pretoria on Thursday, 22 April. According to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), they will bring a wealth of technical expertise and assist with training local candidate engineers.
The DWS and Minister Lindiwe Sisulu have faced mounting criticism from the opposition and civil society since the appointment of the Cuban engineers was announced on Monday, 19 April.
THE APPOINTMENT OF CUBAN ENGINEERS QUESTIONED
On Monday, the DWS said the “highly qualified” Cuban engineers will help out at as advisors at the country’s provincial and local levels. Their “vast skills” will be used in different fields of engineering and project management, including mechanical, electrical and civil.
The members of South African society that are criticising the appointment, most notably political parties ActionSA, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and civil rights group AfriForum are questioning several aspects about the move.
Detractors want to know, amongst other things, how much the Cuban engineers will cost the South African taxpayer, why they were seemingly prioritised over local unemployed engineers and if the imported workers are accredited with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).
According to DA’s Shadow Minister for Water and Sanitation, Leon Basson, there is very little “empirical evidence” that demonstrates that the Cuban appointments made by the government over the last 20 years have benefitted the country In ways that local doctors, teachers or engineers could not have.
“While international aid and assistance should always be welcomed, the truth is that Cuba’s ‘aid’ to South Africa always comes with a massive price tag and without any tangible change to South African society,” said Basson.
FF+ Member of Parliament, Wouter Wessels, said the “ANC government’s” appointment of Cuban expertise is unaffordable and unacceptable and called it a “slap in the face of unemployed South African experts…”
DWS STICKS TO ITS GUNS AND DEFENDS THE APPOINTMENT
Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the DWS, told Power987 that the appointment of Cuban engineers is justified because the country has a number of bilateral agreements with Cuba. However, he added that the situation was not unique to the Caribbean Island.
“We do have agreements with Japan, the Netherlands on other matters,” said Ratau. “So, therefore, this is not unique to Cuba. It’s part of the international playing field.”
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu defended the Cuban engineers against the criticism by saying, to IOL, “The core objective of the agreement is to second Cuban engineers in infrastructure maintenance and operation skills throughout the water value chain from source to tap, with the majority being seconded at water/river clusters and at municipalities to provide training and build capacity to SA candidate engineers and artisans in all identified municipalities.”
Details about the appointment of the Cuban engineers remain scant but Sisulu is sure to face some difficult questions at, or after, the official welcoming in Pretoria East on Thursday.