Change the world


Have politicians put Nelson Mandela Bay’s water security at risk over the past decade by ignoring sound technical advice from engineers?. This evening (10 April), Prof Mike Muller – Visiting Adjunct Professor from Wits University’s School of Governance – will suggest they have, in a public lecture at Nelson Mandela University, titled “Decolonising Engineering”.

In his talk, which is this year’s South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) annual lecture, Muller will offer the view that “we have allowed politicians to put their interests ahead of those of the city’s citizens” and ask “what we need to do better to balance the roles of technocrats [decision-makers appointed for their technical expertise] and politicians”.

Muller, whose research addresses the achievement of water security in a broad development context, argues that the water crisis in Cape Town and water restrictions in Nelson Mandela Bay could have been avoided – and warns that other cities, including Gauteng, Bloemfontein and Durban, are on their way to similar, if not worse, water security risks.

“In all cases, there are ways to avoid allowing risks to turn into crises. But too often, the sound technical advice of engineers is ignored.  Why is that? We need to ask: What does society want from engineers and related technical professions? Technicians who will just do what they are told, regardless of the consequences – or skilled professionals and leaders? Or do we first need to decolonise the professions and what would that mean?”

It is third time Muller is presenting the public lecture – which in Port Elizabeth is being held in collaboration with Africa Earth Observatory Network (AEON) and Nelson Mandela University. The first two lectures were delivered in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“In Cape Town, I focused on the way in which environmental lobbyists discouraged the city from making the investments needed to keep the city water secure. In Johannesburg, I highlighted the way in which former Minister Nomvula Mokonyane had undermined the training and development of a new cadre of engineers, hampering future planning as well as making the region more vulnerable to drought … Over the next decade, Gauteng could experience a water crisis far worse than that currently afflicting Cape Town.”

Muller said his lecture would provide some perspectives, through the lens of water, on “the challenges that engineers and all technical professions face in a 21st century non-racist, non-sexist, democratic South Africa”.

Muller is a professional civil engineer, registered in South Africa and Europe. He was Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs and Forestry from 1997 to 2005, and a Commissioner in South Africa’s first National Planning Commission from 2010 to 2015.  From 2012 to 2014, he chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security.

Prof Mike Muller’s lecture is open to the public and takes place at 5.30pm for 6pm on 10 April in the New Engineering Building (276), Faculty of Engineering, North Campus, Nelson Mandela University, followed by refreshments. To attend, contact Emily Bosire at

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777