Trevor Manuel urges engineers to plan for change
By EBIT Marketing
Posted on 06 August 2012
Among those who attended the annual Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture were (from left to right) Prof Roelf Sandenbergh, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Mr Bob Pullen, Chairman of the South African Academy of Engineering, and Mr Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency for National Planning.
South Africa’s engineering community has an important role to play in the implementation of the change that is necessary to improve skills, upgrade infrastructure and enhance the nation’s innovative capacity. Addressing members of the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology and the South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) and invited guests on 1 August 2012, Minister Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency for National Planning and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission (NPC), identified some of the challenges that need to be addressed to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.
Mr Manuel was presenting the prestigious Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture in the Senate Hall on the Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria (UP). The event was attended by more than 100 academics, students, engineers and alumni of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology. Other distinguished guests included Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, Mr Bob Pullen, Chairperson of the SAAE, and Prof Roelf Sandenbergh, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology.
In his lecture entitled The role of the National Planning Commission as catalyst for the development of South Africa, Mr Manuel elaborated on the NPC’s responsibilities, which include developing a long-term vision and strategic plan for South Africa. The Commission also plays an advisory role in policy implementation.
The overarching goal of the National Development Plan, which was presented to President Jacob Zuma on 11 November last year, is to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. Some of the main challenges identified in the plan are poverty and inequality, division, resources and education, social protection and community safety. In the same way that Hendrik van der Bijl faced various challenges to effect development years ago, South Africa has to deal with a number of issues to facilitate development in all spheres of society to achieve the abovementioned goals.
The two most critical issues that should be addressed in order to achieve success are to increase employment and improve the quality of education. A capabilities approach is needed, which entails enabling people and giving them the skills required to find employment and improve themselves through education. This can only be done by upgrading skills and infrastructure. Mr Manuel emphasised that this was crucial.
South Africa has enormous skills deficits, and education provides the basis for upgrading skills. The five basic themes around which the improvement of education, and thus skills, will be built are the following:
Lay a solid foundation for higher education, which means prioritising early childhood education.
Build a properly qualified, professional, competent and committed teaching, academic, research and public service core. Educators should regularly update their skills and qualifications.
Build a strong and coherent set of institutions for delivering quality education, science and technology innovation, training and skills development. Schools should adhere to infrastructure standards.
Expand the production of highly skilled professionals and enhance the nation’s innovative capacity.
Create an educational and national science system that serves the needs of society. Greater emphasis should be placed on the teaching of literacy, mathematics and science, and on increasing the numbers of African and female postgraduates.
Adequate infrastructure promotes inclusive growth and is a prerequisite for development, which means that the basic systems (water, electricity and telecommunications) must be improved. More specific infrastructure developments proposed in the National Development Plan and mentioned by Mr Manuel are the upgrading of informal settlements on suitable land, the extension of the rail network and coal lines, the development of new water schemes and a water conservation plan, the development of renewable energy and the responsible exploitation of natural gas for energy purposes, the decommissioning of coal power stations and the installation of fibre-optic networks.
In conclusion, Mr Manuel remarked that experimentation was fundamental to finding solutions. Every country and situation has unique circumstances and textbook solutions cannot be simply applied to all similar situations. It is imperative that everyone be involved in the development of the country, and that public-private partnerships drive the process. The involvement of engineers would be to plan for effecting change.
The Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture is an annual event that is presented jointly by the University’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology and the SAAE. It is delivered by a prominent personality under the general theme of the role of engineering in society. This lecture is of particular significance to both the University of Pretoria and the SAAE as Dr Van der Bijl, who was the Chancellor of UP from 1934 to 1948, he made a huge contribution to the industrial and scientific development of South Africa. The first Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture was delivered in 1963 by Dr MS Louw (who represented Sanlam), and ever since these lectures have been delivered by eminent persons who have made their mark in South Africa.
More on Hendrik van der Bijl
Hendrik van der Bijl was born in Pretoria in 1887 and attended school in the Cape Province during the Anglo Boer War. After studying at Victoria College (which would later become the University of Stellenbosch), he continued his studies overseas, specialising in electronics. He was working for the American Telegraph and Telephone Co. in New York as part of a selected group of research scientists that spearheaded American technological development when General Jan Smuts requested him to return to South Africa.
In 1920, he joined the South African government as Technical Advisor and laid the foundations for the development of South African industry. He established and became the Chairman of Eskom, Iscor and the Industrial Development Corporation.
The outstanding organising ability and leadership qualities he displayed during the World War II enabled him to use this opportunity to stimulate and facilitate the second stage of rapid industrial development in South Africa. In later years, Dr Van der Bijl turned his attention to the private sector of the economy. One outcome of this was the establishment in 1947 of Safmarine, of which he was the first Chairman.
The foundations for the industrial development of South Africa were laid by Hendrik van der Bijl, scientist, industrial leader, engineer and entrepreneur. His achievements have been recognised both internationally and locally. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received honorary degrees from the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand. Vanderbijlpark is named after him.