Peter Kleynhans

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Mr. Peter Kleynhans is the newly elected president of South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE). He is a registered Professional Engineer, Professional Planner, Professional Construction Project Manager and a Chartered Engineer with broad-ranging experience spanning more than 40 years. He is a Fellow of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), as well as a Fellow or Corporate Member of five other professional institutions in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.

Over more than 30 years, Peter has served on several SAICE divisional committees and was chairman of the Institution’s Finance and Administration Committee. He is a member of the SAICE Council and has served on the Executive Board in various capacities.

Peter received the SAICE President’s Award in 2002 for meritorious service to SAICE and for significant ongoing contributions towards the civil engineering profession. In 2009, he received the SAICE President’s Award for exceptional voluntary service to SAICE.

He has experience in strategic and business planning, people management, coordination of professional services, marketing and directing the execution of projects. Project work has included the provision of services to clients and communities in the fields of urban and rural development, town and regional planning, capacity building, facilitation, environmental management, water and sanitation services, streets and stormwater drainage, water services development plans, by-laws and infrastructure planning models, as well as management support to central government, regional authorities and municipalities.

For many years, Peter was the Managing Director of the Development and Water Divisions of SSI Engineers and Environmental Consultants (now Royal HaskoningDHV), a leading South African consulting engineering firm with activities internationally, many of which are in Africa.

During his inauguration as the new SAICE president on 12 February 2013, Kleynhans noted that a third of the world’s population is reported to live in poverty (more than two billion people) and in Africa it is thought to be about three hundred million.

“Unemployment is a global phenomenon. This state of affairs might indicate that the global economy is unable to provide employment for the world’s population” he stated.

With regards to population growth, the SAICE president said there is need to actively promote and support appropriate initiatives to attain a continuous reduction in the population growth rate. “Such interventions are in the interest of both current and future generations,” he said. He also highlighted on demand management explaining that while measures have been put in place to reduce the impact of civil engineering works on the environment, what has not received attention is reducing the need for engineering works.“The clamour for new works to satisfy the existing and burgeoning population has enabled us (civil engineers) to fulfill our aspirations (creating immovable assets). On the other hand, this is being achieved at the expense of future generations. Also, each new immovable asset creates a life-long liability. A case can be made, therefore, that the demand for immovable assets should be reduced. The consequence of such an approach is that, at the outset of any civil engineering project, the question should be asked as to whether or not the immovable asset is really necessary. Only if the answer is truly positive should a project proceed in the most environmentally effective manner,” he said.

He added that engineering, particularly civil engineering, has done very much to benefit humankind over the centuries and to increase standards of living. “Indeed, we pride ourselves on applying the skill, art and science of our calling to the benefit of humankind and to adapting nature to that end. The unintended outcome of our endeavours is that we have played a major role in enabling unbridled population growth, increasing demand and resource degradation/depletion to occur.

“We have a mind-set that a growing population is necessary for our industry and economies to flourish. This view is open to question. A large, significantly impoverished population is not conducive to business or economic growth. Povertology (the process of making a living out of poverty) is far more limiting than is the opportunity to develop businesses in a smaller, but better-off society. Impoverishment tends to drain economies, rather than add to economic stability and growth,” argued Kleynhans.

He hinted that engineering skills have not been and are not being adequately viewed as a national asset. “Engineering practitioners are developed at great expense over a lengthy period, generally at least three decades. Due to historical attitudes these assets are then ‘retired’ before many of them have completed their useful lives. Coupled with this is increasing life-expectancy, which results in engineering practitioners being ‘fit for purpose’ for much longer than in the past. Retirement is becoming an antiquated concept and we need to adjust our attitudes, as well as the utilisation of ‘engineering practitioner assets’, accordingly”he said.

This truly thought-provoking presidential address, in essence, provides a ‘blueprint’ of how South Africa could change much of the issues which currently seem insurmountable.