ESI Africa speaks to Moferefere Tshabalala to find out more about the manbehind the title, what he views as the most pressing matters in the electricity industry and his vision for the AMEU during his tenure.

In October 2016, Moferefere Tshabalala addressed the 65th AMEU convention as the association’s newly inaugurated president. ESI Africa’s editor took a moment during the convention to find out more about the man behind the title, who had decided on a career in electricity at a young age when being taught about electricity in a science class at school.

ESI – In your opinion, what are the challenges around operations and maintenance that are affecting the industry, and how can municipalities support the AMEU’s women in electricity initiative?

MT Currently the most pressing challenge we are facing, not only at Emfuleni Municipality but across the country, is theft – cable theft and substation vandalism. Secondly, the allocation of budget in terms of the maintenance is a concern. Many municipalities are not allocated sufficient funds to carry out the maintenance that is required to keep the lights burning. If you examine the history of our municipalities, most of the network infrastructure is very old; some is more than 50 years old. We need to maintain this equipment, and without a maintenance plan and allocated budget, the equipment’s lifespan is shortened and consequently the municipality is faced with frequent power failure.

In terms of support for women in electricity: Ever since I started attending AMEU branch meetings it’s been a ‘boys club’. However, in the past three years we have realised that the association needs to come up with a radical intervention to engage women in electricity.

We established Women in Electricity (WiE), which was launched two years ago. As municipal officials, we need to give women an opportunity, not only in lower level positions but in middle and senior management and in technical roles as well. Remember, in South Africa the employment equity act encourages both public and private sector companies to transform to accommodate women on all levels. At Emfuleni Municipality, we already have a few female electricians who have made inroads into our municipality. Recently, Ms Pontsho Moletsane was the first female to be appointed as a foreperson at Emfuleni. The industry currently faces an aging skills pool; many municipal employees will reach pensionable age very soon. In my speech [at the AMEU convention] I indicated that we need to roll up our sleeves and forge relationships between industries.

For instance, we have the steel industry around us, which has certain skills and resources that the municipality does not have and likewise we have skills and resources they it does have. Therefore, forging relationships between industry and the municipality and between the municipalities and the metro, we can have exchange programmes to fill the deficit of skills and resources.

In fact, I should be able to send one of my learners to a neighbouring municipality, or to a consulting company, to be exposed to practical learning on how to cost a project. This could be over a period of a month or two, and the consulting companies should be able to send their interns into municipalities for practical training as well.

This type of skills transfer and training should be well documented, so that after two to five years we can be sure that we have completed what we embarked on. That is the type of relationship I am looking forward to accomplishing – as president of the AMEU, this is one of my goals! ESI