. The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) welcomed their 119th president, Prof. Marianne Vanderschuren, into office at a special inauguration event. The auspicious occasion, held on Friday, 26 November 2021, was attended both virtually and in-person at The Westin Cape Town, in the presence of SAICE members, stakeholders and members of the press.
In her presidential address, Prof. Vanderschuren discussed four themes – civil society, appraisal, responsibility, and education. On civil society, she addressed the civil infrastructure needs for the future for South Africa. “According to the United Nations, the South African population is due to grow by another 25% in the next 50 years. Growth is expected to be larger in cities, due to migration. This increasing population translates into a further need for civil infrastructure and services.” Meeting these needs will require competent and professional civil engineering professionals.
On appraisal, Marianne discussed challenges which may hamper the meeting of future needs. “To make sure South Africa meets the multiple societal objectives, a more holistic optimisation appraisal approach is required. Our industry, perhaps even in collaboration with other industries, needs to move towards holistic appraisal practices, to make sure that investments prioritise projects with the highest overall impact.” To achieve this, she said that criteria should include strategic fit, societal impact, and deliverability.
Further, she said: “The responsibility to implement civil infrastructure and services is, to a large extent, carried by municipalities. However, there has been a decline in technical capacity in municipalities, including some cities, that affects their ability to spend capital budgets. An aging infrastructure and prolonged underinvestment in maintenance has led to major challenges, as articulated in SAICE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card (IRC).”
In terms of education, Prof. Vanderschuren believes that in a country with a growing population and decreasing technical skills in municipalities, education and capacity building are core. “The education challenge is to guarantee that the basic engineering competencies are taught. Amid the pandemic, online emergency teaching provided many solutions for universities. SAICE has similarly stepped up through the launch of the SAICE Academy ,which aims to foster transformation in the civil engineering sector through skills and professional development.”
In conclusion, she said: “When you combine the first letter of each of my themes, you will see that the word ‘CARE’ appears. Those who correspond with me know that ‘Dare to Care’ has been my motto since the start of the pandemic. I believe we must now work together to reboot and rebuild our beautiful nation.”
Meanwhile, outgoing president for 2021, Vishal Krishandutt, welcomed the new President, Prof. Vanderschuren: “She is a capable, skilled, well-respected, individual, and I wish her the best in driving the SAICE agenda for the betterment of our profession and for our country into the future.”
Krishandutt reflected on the past year at SAICE, as well as the state of the civil engineering industry and the economy. He believes that “despite the current state of the South African economy and its impact on infrastructure service delivery, with a renewed focus on training and investment, 2022 holds potential for improved sector growth.”
Krishandutt’s presidential theme for 2021 focused on gender diversity and inclusivity. He said that SAICE is committed to contributing towards a diverse and inclusive civil engineering and built environment sector, where every individual is a valued contributor, with a sense of belonging and with equal opportunity to succeed. In fact, to promote an inclusive environment, which encourages equality and fairness, the number of women on its Council, as well as its executive board has increased for 2022.
He concluded: “We’ve done it because we believe our strength lies in our diversity, and because everyone of us brings to the table a different set of skills, intelligence, charisma and determination regardless of race, age or gender; and because transformation must start from within. To drive change, you have to first embrace it and we will continue to drive this transformation at SAICE.”
Prof. Vanderschuren is the third female president in SAICE’s history, following in the footsteps of the renowned Dr. Allyson Lawless and Prof. Elsabe Kearsley.. In recent years, SAICE has strived to promote diversity and inclusion in the civil engineering industry, and members can look forward to this ongoing transformation under the leadership of Prof. Vanderschuren.
The evening also celebrated Innocentia Mahlangu, winner of the President’s Award for the most outstanding SAICE member, and Mr. JHV Viljoen as the 2021 Honorary Fellow.