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Look after our young blue scorpions

By: Mike Muller

We are often quick to criticise our new generation of public servants but we should not underestimate the stresses and strains that a new generation of technocrats faces

The proposed takeover of the SETAs, South Africa’s training authorities, by national government is important. Too much of their levies was going to trainers who have been more interested in getting their hands on our money than in producing trained people.

Whether government will do a better job is another question, but at least they acknowledge that there is a problem. This must be addressed because, in a sea of unemployment, it is often difficult to find people able to do the jobs that need to be done. That goes right across the spectrum from plumbers’ mates to water resource planners.

But, while it is important to train new people, we also have to look after those that we have. That message was brought home forcefully at the end of last year when I learnt of the about the death of yet another former colleague.

Nigel Adams, founder of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS)’s ‘Blue Scorpions’, died suddenly at the beginning of December at the age of just 45. His job was to deal with people who polluted our rivers or illegally took water destined for other people. He was passionate about this critical task and, in a very complicated legal context, he did it very well.

Nigel was not the sector’s only loss over the past year. Just a few weeks earlier, Shane Naidoo, a 39-year old, who was playing a leading role putting in place the systems to protect the country’s water resources, drowned tragically on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Then we lost Tami Sokutu, a natural scientist with a Master’s degree in environmental management. As deputy director-general at Water Affairs, he was one of the authors of South Africa’s widely hailed National Water Act and initiated its implementation before moving on to head the Department of Public Works. He was lured from the public service by the glamour of a top job at African Bank but passed away in February this year, shortly after his 50th birthday.

That came just after we had lost Labane Leballo, a 49-year old young engineer who had just joined KPMG to lead their water industry team. He previously ran water services in the Eastern Cape and Harrismith before taking over as chief executive officer (CEO) of the Lepelle water board in Limpopo, where he kept the water flowing in that dry and difficult province.

Too often, we are quick to criticise our new generation of public servants but, as this casualty list shows, we should not underestimate the stresses and strains that a new generation of technocrats face in South Africa in the 21st century.

Read the full feature in Plumbing Africa February 2016,page 49.

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