HomeEvent NewsExclusive interview with Andre Hoffmann, SAIEE

Exclusive interview with Andre Hoffmann, SAIEE

“Let’s fix the problem, let’s set a course for a future that we all actually want to live in and then we can go back to business as usual.”

Andre HoffmannExclusive interview with Andre Hoffmann, SAIEE Senior Vice President.  SAIEE will present Electrical Engineering, CPD-accredited technical workshops at African Utility Week.

1)     Let’s start off with some background on the SAIEE and its goals.
Evolving from the earlier established South African Society of Electrical Engineers established in 1897, the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) was formed in 1909, at a time when the consumer and industrial demands of a growing country necessitated the need to take advantage of the technical advancement offered by the generation, distribution and use of electricity as a means of clean energy that would take the industrial age to a new level of productivity and improved quality of life. The mining industry was taking off, a period of relative political stability ensued after the Anglo-Boer war was concluded. This meant that the fundamental national building blocks and infrastructure could be laid out to build the country and take advantage of the rich mineral resources that had been discovered on the Witwatersrand in the 1890’s and get these safely and effectively processed and transported to the ports of export.

South Africa at the time was transitioning from a loosely federated set of four British Colonies into the Union of South Africa, established on 31 March 1910. Since then SAIEE has grown to a membership of over 6000 professionals engaged in the full range of electrical engineering and related activities including academic research, manufacturing, electronics, telecommunications, measurement and control, mining, and power infra-structural services. Essentially the SAIEE is a Voluntary Association (VA) dedicated to the interests of the professional Electrical and Electronic engineering practitioner on South Africa and affiliated to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) which is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the engineering profession in terms of the relevant Act. The SAIEE provides both professional and discipline specific input to enable ECSA to deliver on its mandate and the profession to function appropriately. Members of the SAIEE serve on various ECSA Committees, such the Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) which evaluates applications for professional registration, the Engineering Programme Accreditation Committee (EPAC) which accredits university degrees and others.

The goals of the SAIEE are percolated through the influence of its grassroots membership and actioned by a number of Centres, Sections and Technical committees that have specific geographic or focus areas that address aspects such as Professional Development, Education and Training, Technical Standards and others. The SAIEE is governed by a Council, elected by its members and is administrated by elected Office Bearers and appointed administration based out of SAIEE House at the SAIEE Campus in Gill Street in Observatory, Johannesburg. Prior to the establishment of the Engineering Council of SA (ECSA) in 1960 the SAIEE Corporate Membership Grade consisted inter alia of engineers who had successfully completed SAIEE examinations to be regarded equal to engineers holding BSc Eng degrees. Currently the SAIEE carries out the professional work in the areas of Accreditation of tertiary engineering institutions and the work of professional advisory committees of ECSA that is mandated by the Engineering Professions Act of 2000.

Members of the Institute continue make meaningful contributions of the quality of life, to the community and to the steady advancement of technology. Their efforts are acknowledged in many countries of the world and in South Africa they play an important role in the development of electrical engineer’s professionalism and support of the whole electrical engineering fraternity.

The history and background of the SAIEE is eloquently and diligently captured in beautiful coffee table books such as:

  • Sparkling Achievements’ Highlights of Electrical Engineering in South Africa, published by Chris van Rensburg Publishers (2001)
  • The First Ten Decades – The History of the SAIEE 1909 – 2009; Chris van Rensburg Publishers (2009)
  • Living Amongst the Stars by Dirk Vermeulen and published by Chris van Rensburg Publishers (2012)

Copies of these books may be purchased (if stocks are available) from the SAIEE head office in Johannesburg and will provide the reader with a comprehensive history of the SAIEE and its achievements since inception.

What are the SAIEE’s best accomplishments so far in your opinion?  Exciting projects that are ahead?
– Members of the Institute have made significant achievements acknowledged at national and international forums. Members such as Dr. Bernard Price (1877-1948) the founding Chief Engineer and later General Manager of the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company; Dr Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl (1887-1948) founding chairman of the Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM) and founder of ISCOR; Trevor Wadley the inventor of the Tellurometer many others too numerous to mention here. The membership of the Institute and the association and the professional network platform afforded by this membership would have contributed in no small way to these and other individual achievements.

Administration – The Institute is proud to have opened its new offices and administration facilities in October 2011 at the Observatory campus. It is from these facilities that much of the membership value is provided in the form of Continued Processional Development (CPD) training and Engineering Mentorship programs, coordinating relevant events as well as hosting the monthly office bearer and technical committee meetings required to run the Institutes affairs. The SAIEE has more than kept abreast of the metamorphosis that has taken place in SA since 1994. The SAIEE operational activities and financial turnover has almost quadrupled of 2005 in 2013 and since it is a non-profit, non-taxable entity all these resources are to the benefit of the members and those desirable to become electrical engineers.

Affiliations: In support of its members and the Electrical Engineering Profession in the country, the SAIEE has established networks and cooperative agreements (MOU’s) with international organizations. Such organizations include amongst others, the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in the USA, IET (similar to IEEE) in the UK, CIgre’ a high voltage engineering association based in Europe, which enables the exchange of information related to Electrical Engineering practice and technology. The SAIEE also provides support to local organizations such as the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

Museum – The Historical Section of the SAIEE is the custodian of the historic record of the SAIEE and to this end the beautifully restored (Herbert Baker designed) Innes House on the campus is in the process of being set up as a boutique museum to display some of the significant archive of the Institute in order to preserve the records and make it more accessible and visible to members and other interested parties.

Awards – The Institute administers and awards many bursaries for graduate and post graduate engineering studies, and is actively involved in developmental activities to stimulate the adoption of Mathematics and Science at schools particularly in the rural areas.

The SAIEE makes three prestigious awards annually at its annual banquet:

  • The President’s award – The SAIEE’s premier annual award that recognises current major contributions in any sector of electrical, electronic, telecommunications and computer engineering.
  • Engineer of the Year Award – To a member of the SAIEE who has energetically and voluntarily worked towards promoting electrical science and its applications for the benefit of SAIEE members and the Southern African community through his involvement in Institute affairs.
  • The Keith Plowden Young Achievers Award – For the most outstanding young achiever of the year in the field of Electrical/electronic engineering.

The SAIEE also gives awards to third year students at many universities and to grade 8-12 scholars through the Eskom Science Expo.

The year ahead – In the coming year (2014) the Institute will inaugurate a new President (Dr. Pat Naidoo) at the AGM scheduled for March. It will open its Museum at Innes House. It will continue to effectively administer and award graduate and post graduate bursaries to a tranche of deserving student and graduates. If 2013 was anything to go by then 2014 and the future years will only be more energetic and filled with activity in addressing in the pertinent issues of the day. Issues such as the skills pipeline of competent electrical engineering practitioners; renewable energy options; Regulatory and Standards issues among others. It is also apparent that the SAIEE will be working more closely with other VA’s in a collaborative effort to ensure sustainable capacitation of the national imperatives as delineated in the National Development Plan. Events like the Civilution Congress to be run in April will be the launch platform for a more collaborative effort by a large grouping of VA’s in South Africa see: http://saice-congress.co.za/)

Corporate Partners – The Institute can only achieve its aims and objectives to the scope and extent that it has sufficient resources to implement projects and activities within its annual budget. Given that its primary source of funding comes from membership subscriptions and other value added services such as CPD courses, the Institute plans to embrace a Corporate Partnership programme in the coming year that will afford relevant organisations an opportunity to access the growing membership of the Institute and participate meaningfully in SAIEE run programs and events.

What is your role in the organisation?
I am a Fellow of the SAIEE and member of Council and currently an Office Bearer of the Institute as its 2013 Senior Vice President. In this role I contribute with the other Office Bearers to the effective oversight and governance structures that bring effect to the mandate of Council and deal with the broad portfolios of Strategy, Finance and Administration within the Institute. I am also the chairman of the Events and Marketing Committee of the Institute for 2013.

How do you see the SAIEE’s role in the industry?
The SAIEE has relevance to industry in the areas of:

a)     Quality – by its involvement and oversight within various technical standards committees.

b)    Skills pipeline – by its outreach programs promoting maths and science in schools and its graduate bursary schemes

c)     Stimulating Research and Development – with its Post Graduate bursaries and the Transactions peer reviewed Journal

d)    Continued Professional Development – with ECSA accredited training courses available monthly as well as the various prestige lectures and technical visits arranged by the SAIEE each month to ensure industry engineers are up to date with the state of the field they practice in.

e)     Mentorship – providing a full mentorship program for engineers, technologists and technicians to assist industry guide their valuable skilled resources to full professional registration and make them more productive.

f)     Balanced voice – by representing such a broad base of stakeholders from consumers to manufacturers, utilities, enterprises and academics the SAIEE is able to facilitate balanced views and contributions to matters of national importance affecting electrical engineering. The wattnow publication (http://www.wattnow.co.za) and the SAIEE website are valuable channels to members and provide the industry with a platform for debate and opinion forming as well as a channel for technical development and continued professional development.

Global Relationships – Forging and maintaining strong links by way of agreements of cooperation and sharing of knowledge with inter alia other likeminded entities such as the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineering (IEEE) in the USA  and the Institute of Electrical and Technician Institute (IET) in the UK  who together have a membership base of more than 500,000 members worldwide.

Why the decision to partner with African Utility Week?
The SAIEE Council recently sanctioned a policy to enable the endorsement of certain events and activities that meet certain criteria and provide mutual benefits to the SAIEE and the Event. The key criteria for SAIEE event endorsement are:

  • The Event theme and subject matter must be of quality and standard that it would be of interest to Electrical Engineers, and relevant to the SAIEE and its membership.
  • The SAIEE brand and reputation must be protected and enhanced by any such association.
  • There has to be a benefit to the SAIEE for access to the SAIEE membership and mind-space.
  • There is to be no financial risk to the SAIEE.

After due consideration the Events and Marketing Committee recommended that the African Utility Week event be endorsed by the SAIEE and it is our hope that this relationship will be a mutually beneficial one.

Through this event the SAIEE expects to get the opportunity to grow the SAIEE membership, to extend the brand and influence of the SAIEE across a wider audience and to provide content opportunities for the wattnow journal.

What will be your message at African Utility Week?
Technology does not exist in isolation of society, it is developed and implemented to benefit society and it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Delegates to the AUW need to use the opportunity to build and strengthen their professional networks and appreciation of the new developments in the various technologies available to them. Furthermore I believe that a concerted effort needs to be made in lobbying with government and policy makers to reinforce the role of the trained and competent professional engineer or technologist in capacitating government utilities to run effectively and sustainably over the expected economic life-cycle of the investment.

South Africa Inc. is at a critical juncture in our development as a country. Having achieved much in political emancipation since 1994 however we remain critically poised on a fine balance that may tip us economically and send us spiraling towards a more unpleasant future. The danger is that we get too myopic in our vision and allow the short-term gratification to be the focus instead of investing in the foundational infrastructural issues that benefit the longer term prospects.

We cannot afford to ‘laager’ in our comfort zones and forgo the opportunity to work together towards a greater goal. There is nothing that galvanizes a disparate bunch of individuals or groups more than a common enemy.

Who or What is that enemy?

The vision of a South Africa that has degenerated into a chaotic state of civil strife precipitated by degrading service delivery infrastructure should be frightening enough to jolt us out of our complacency. Is this the future that we want for ourselves, our children and grandchildren?

It starts with the ‘Broken Window’… then the pothole down the road does not get fixed and your car tire bursts. The traffic lights that regularly do not function on your way to and from work causing delays, frustration and increased fuel costs. The water systems that are failing and cause frequent loss of water supply. The raw sewage spewing out over the pavement bringing disease and vermin. The increasingly frequent power outages and the concomitant frustration that such induces. It’s only a matter of time before the communication systems, the bridges and the transport systems falter and possibly collapse and crime and lawlessness take hold as the norm.

South Africa is not an island. It exists in a globally competitive environment and its infrastructure that supports the economy cannot be left to degenerate without affecting our medium and long term sustainability as a country.

There is little point in refining and perfecting our specialized disciplines if ‘Rome’ is burning. Let’s fix the problem, let’s set a course for a future that we all actually want to live in and then we can go back to business as usual.

Final Comment – The SAIEE is the ideal place for serious minded electrical engineering practitioners to ensure that they are in company with other professionals who together contribute to the welfare in serving the South African community in the fast changing world of today. Events like AUW week provide the platform for engineers, decision/policy makers, suppliers and the community to interact and better understand each other’s role in serving South Africa. All have a contribution to make in making South Africa better country.

Anything else you would like to add?
What’s in it for me?
– People often ask the question – ‘Why become members of the Institute? For me the benefit has really been maximised by the extent of my active involvement in the organisation. If one limits ones involvement to just paying the annual subscription and attending one or two SAIEE lectures a year then the benefit will be minimal, but if one seeks to make a social investment in the community in a meaningful way then active involvement in a Voluntary Association like the SAIEE will provide a lasting legacy for generations in the future to enjoy and build upon.

Someone once said ‘that a man begins to understand the meaning of life when he plants a tree under which he knows he will not sit.’ For me this is a long term investment not just in myself in terms of my own personal development but also to those that come behind me.

My advice to young graduates – ‘You will benefit from the SAIEE to the extent that you involve yourself in it.’ For me it’s about leaving the world a better place than when I found it. I get satisfaction from knowing that I can help others develop in their career in electrical engineering and hopefully when I get older and also my grandchildren will benefit from a) the lights being kept on and b) a more connected world. – Why? Because someone cared, got involved and made a difference. My recommendation to young graduates is to foster and nurture their professional network connections and using their knowledge and skills the people they know and the friends that they make along the way. This will give them an edge in a competitive global job market.


SAIEE’s Electrical Engineering, CPD-accredited technical workshops at African Utility Week will focus on:

  • Fibre Optic Communications
  • Power system fault calculations
  • Photo Voltaic Solar Systems
  • Licensing of IPP Generators
  • Meter reading and information transfer
  • Hybrid meter technologies
  • Advanced communication technologies
  • Unified AMR solutions


Comments are closed.