South Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa’s big lie about local government skills

Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has blamed apartheid for a lack of well-qualified engineers and town planners, but the data shows that his government chased qualified people away.

Last week, Ramaphosa told the media that there is a lack of capacity within the state, especially at the local government level.

“You don’t have well-qualified CFOs, engineers, or town planners. Apartheid robbed us of having a plethora of town planners in the education system,” he said.

He said if it were not for apartheid, the country would have been littered with qualified town planners and other professionals.

“That is the effect of apartheid. That is how apartheid robbed the country and its future,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that the old government made it a point to train town planners but denied black people to be trained as town planners and engineers.

He said when democracy arrived in South Africa, the shadow of apartheid was cast over the country’s present and future.

A journalist challenged his claims, highlighting that the country’s education system produced many engineers and town planners over the last 30 years.

He responded that many of these qualified professionals don’t come from Pampiersdorp, a township in the Northern Cape.

The President said Pampiersdorp needs a qualified town planner. “The education system in Pampiersdorp did not produce a town planner,” he said.

He claimed that qualified professionals don’t want to live in Pampiersdorp, which is why such municipalities rely so heavily on consultants.

OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage

However, the reality is that the current government inherited municipalities with experienced and qualified professionals.

The government proactively replaced these professionals with unqualified and poorly skilled cadres, which caused the municipalities to collapse.

As the incompetent deployed cadres could not do the jobs, the municipalities started to hire consultants to do their work.

The situation has reached such problematic levels that the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has called on municipalities to address the issue.

“Stop pandering to incompetent deployed cadres in municipalities and replace them with professionals who will do the job,” Outa said.

“The public is entitled to expect that managers who are paid anything from R815,063 to R3.934 million a year are fully competent.”

Outa executive manager Julius Kleynhans said the ineptitude and incompetence of municipal managers are overwhelming.

“If you compare the quality of individuals in top management positions in top-performing companies and our municipalities, you will quickly see what is wrong,” Kleynhans said.

“Don’t use consultants unless it’s absolutely essential. If staff cannot do their jobs, they should be fired and replaced by permanent staff who can.”

Jacques Smalle, the DA’s shadow deputy minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (COGTA), has also called for an end to cadre deployment.

He called on COGTA Minister Thembi Nkadimeng to reduce the overreliance on consultants by terminating cadre deployment.

Steven Kaplan and Vishaal Lutchman
SAICE president Steven Kaplan and CEO Vishaal Lutchman

Data from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) further showed that Cyril Ramaphosa’s government destroyed skills at municipalities.

SAICE president Steven Kaplan shared data revealing tremendous skill destruction in South African cities and towns over the last 15 years.

The data showed municipalities have lost many qualified and experienced professionals over the last fifteen years.

Research by former SAICE president Dr Allyson Lawless showed that junior technicians had replaced senior engineers working in local government.

Her research showed that there had been a migration of skills, especially professional engineers, towards the private sector and global markets.

There has been a displacement of older, experienced engineers in municipalities between the ages of 45 and 60.

“In 2005, there was a balance between the senior engineers, technologists, and technicians at local government,” Kaplan said.

The situation changed dramatically over the last decade, with virtually no senior engineers left at municipalities.

The senior engineers were replaced by an abundance of new graduate technicians and technologists with no experience. Very few new engineers were employed.

“It means the young incoming graduates don’t have anyone in the workplace to provide structured mentorship programmes,” Kaplan said.

These programmes are essential for skills development and service delivery and guide new graduates to become productive professionals.

Kaplan said many municipalities don’t have a single registered professional engineer to guide the young graduates.

The charts below show how civil engineering practitioners’ age and qualifications in local government have changed over the last fifteen years.


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