Labour union Solidarity has sent the government a list of more than 120 “competent and willing” South African engineers who can replace the 24 Cuban engineers imported at a cost of millions to help repair the country’s ailing water infrastructure.
On Thursday, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu welcomed the Cubans, claiming their presence would ultimately lead to better living conditions for the majority of South Africans.
According to Solidarity, however, its list of local engineers has more expertise at a lower cost than importing Cuban engineers.
Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said the list contained some of the country’s most experienced and knowledgeable specialists in engineering, some who have masters and doctoral degrees, and others who have up to 42 years of experience.
“Our list contains specialists in several fields of engineering and project management, but should the minister require other expertise we can find those skills with the help of our Engineering Guild.”
Solidarity argued it was unjustified to import foreign workers in the midst of an unemployment crisis, in which South Africa’s official unemployment rate is almost 33%, when better options are available locally.
“It is a shame that the government itself does not take the president’s call earlier this year to support local employees and businesses seriously,” Hermann said.
“If the minister was truly unable to find local workers who wanted to do the work, then she did not search very hard. Thus, we will bring the engineers to her.”
Solidarity’s stance was echoed by Change SA’s Herman Mashaba, who posted a plea from an unemployed local engineer on social media.
Minister @LindiweSisuluSA – I want you to watch and listen carefully please.
This young man is a qualified civil engineer from a South African university.
He can’t find work, so he is delivering food.
— Herman Mashaba (@HermanMashaba) April 23, 2021
Political analyst Levy Ndou said the decision to import Cuban engineers reflected negatively on the country and its education system.
“One of the challenges we have as a country is unemployment. We have many TVET colleges and we have many graduates who have the capacity to do the work,” Ndou said.
Sisulu said the Cuban engineers would assist in “building capacity of the country’s candidate engineers and artisans in various provinces. The engineers will be getting a stipend on a monthly basis. The budget that has been set aside will also cover accommodation and goods and services,” Sisulu said.
“I want to refute claims that these engineers are in the country to take jobs which could be offered to South Africans, that is not the case at all.”