Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has lashed out at those who have questioned a skills transfer programme involving Cuban engineers.
On Thursday, Sisulu announced that 24 Cuban engineers would help with water infrastructure and maintenance “from source to tap” and that around R65 million had been budgeted for this financial year.
Most were seconded to water and river “clusters” to provide training and help local engineers and artisans with infrastructure problems. They will receive stipends and payment for goods and services.
However, the programme has come under fire from local organisations such as Solidarity and the Engineering Council of South Africa.
Solidarity has threatened to apply for an interdict to stop the government from hiring Cuban engineers for water systems maintenance and repairs, saying local engineers and skills specialists can do the job instead.
In a statement, Sisulu said she noted “with disappointment calls which seek to discourage or downplay the work of the Cuban engineers”.
She remarked on the close ties between the two countries, with Cuba supporting South Africa’s liberation movement.
“All of us live in a free country because they selflessly made it possible and this is the bitter pill they have not swallowed yet. But a few other truths need to be stated,” Sisulu said.
She added that she had made a call for local engineers to assist in the skills transfer programme, but “only five companies responded”.
“Responding to my call is their prerogative, however, whipping up negativity is not a way to a good working relationship. It is in their interest that the relationship is conducive to creating an environment that benefits themselves as well as the people they hope to provide services for,” Sisulu said.
“I repeat, the Cubans are not in our country for employment. They are here to mentor our municipal workers so that we can create jobs for South Africa, both skilled and unskilled. Today we have qualified black women engineers whom they mentored during their last stint in our country.”
Sisulu said the Cuban engineers will also help to repair infrastructure because they had been dealing with ageing infrastructure.
“The jobs we will be creating as we roll out infrastructure programmes will be for South Africans. All this was made clear at the ceremony and through the media. We are therefore left with no doubt that the mischief is deliberate and engineered,” she said.
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