South Africa is spending US$4.3 million for the services of 24 Cuban engineers deployed to help it navigate water and sanitation issues in the country’s rural communities, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on FridayThe funding will cover the engineers’ allowances, accommodation, goods and services, Sisulu said.
Sisulu said the deployment of the Cubans would beef up current skills in the rural areas caused by locals who shun the locations in favour of cities and proximity to their families.
“Very few of our own engineers would possibly opt to go work in the rural areas because they have families, and have preferences of where to work,” Sisulu said.
She added: “We suffer most (for service delivery) in the rural areas, and the Cuban engineers who have come here know that they are coming to a hardship situation.”
“They are coming to help us in the rural areas, where there has not been water, where nobody has come forward to say: ‘We can help you here’,” the minister said.
Sisulu said the Cubans would be deployed in the rural hinterlands of Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Free State and North West Provinces during their duration in the country.
Roping in the Cubans, however, has drawn criticism from a member of the engineering profession, saying that a country facing high unemployment should have contracted local skills first.
Local South African engineering skills in the private sector were underutilised, and there was a large pool of unemployed graduates in the country, Consulting Engineers South Africa chief executive Chris Campbell said.
“Employing highly skilled locally experienced engineers, supported by unemployed graduates, would provide a more sustainable solution to the problems of the rural communities,” Campbell said.
The engineer also said the Cubans were just too few to make a difference in the capacity challenges at the provincial and national levels in the ministry of water and sanitation.
Instead, the solution was to address this through meaningful public-private partnerships, he added.
On his part, Action South Africa party leader Herman Mashaba said the government was placing Cubans before the interest of South Africans.
“The policy of spending millions of dollars to benefit the Cuban government is a policy of the ruling African National Congress arising from their historical relationships,” Mashaba added.