Incoming president’s address at the AMEU Convention 2012

December 4th, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Hannes Roos

It is indeed an honour to have been elected president of the AMEU. An honour yes, but it also comes with some trepidation as I ventured on this road for the two years which I know will be exciting, rewarding and a most enriching experience. While this is indeed a feather in my own cap and a personal gratification, it would not have been possible without the support of the City of Ekurhuleni which has allowed me to fulfil this role. I would not have been able to tackle this demanding task without the support of my HOD, Mark Wilson, and colleagues of the Ekurhuleni Energy Department, it is greatly appreciated.

Since being nominated as President Elect at the technical convention in Cape Town in September 2011, I could already start feeling the pressure on what was still to come. I’ve had a year in which to realise what I am in for and, as you no doubt know, it is always easier to sit on the side line than being “it” in the hot seat! I thank you for the confidence you have shown in me and I am proud to be able to serve the association, the City of Ekurhuleni and our industry as president of the AMEU.

Allow me to remind you that it was our predecessors –who had the vision to establish our association way back in 1915 because they believed that it was necessary “to promote the interests of Municipal Electricity Undertakings”.

They did this by developing and agreeing on technical standards for our industry, promoting the standardisation of regulations, by-laws and safety standards, the training of technical staff, and promotion of good management – to name but a few things.

One of the first achievements was the standardisation of the voltage and frequency for electricity supplies. In this day and age of national grids we easily forget that in the early days all member undertakings relied on their own local generating stations, and were free to choose their own supply voltages and frequencies. Did you know, for example, that during World War 2, and a year or two thereafter, the old VFP system (pre-Eskom era along the Witwatersrand) operated at 50, 5 cycles per second (Hz) not 50?

This was because the mines needed more pumps for de-watering the deep level shafts, and because the machinery was unobtainable because of the war they negotiated for the frequency to be raised to increase the pumping capacity! It worked…

We also need to be reminded that from early on our colleagues played leading roles in the work of the SABS and the various government departments involved in our industry. We still do, of course.

I am proud to have worked with some of those pioneers – people like Al Fortmann, Jules von Ahlften, Jan Loubser, Eugene Pretorius – all of whom have since passed on to a higher srvice. I have fond memories of people like Howard Whitehead, At van der Merwe and John Ehrich – all important pillars in our proud history who have retired from municipal service, but who still play active roles in the industry. And then, ladies and gentlemen, my favourite, and I am sure you will all agree with me, Max Clarke. After all these years he is still involved in the industry (AMEU and SAIEE and the like). Thank you Max, for all your inputs, they are much appreciated.

From my introduction to the industry in the late 1980s I have benefitted and grown from the collective wisdom of the association, and those early engineers. I have great appreciation for the colleagues who advised and supported me during my spell as secretary of the Highveld Branch in 1992, and my later progression to vice-chairman and then chairman of the branch in 1994. I recall well how some of these people used to sit in the Highveld branch meetings scrutinising my minutes of the meetings, looking not only for spelling mistakes but also checking if the wording of my sentences made sense… as a youngster at that stage I was initially intimidated, but will never forget the support given to me, and the collective wisdom passed on to me.

I also recall my early membership of the executive council in1999 and the support received in the various jobs I was called on to handle over the years… and now this great honour of being your president. Thank you, one and all.

There have been many changes to the association in its 97 years of existence. These have not only been to its constitution and membership, but also to the technical, social and political environment in which it operates. With each change we have built on the rock-solid foundations laid by those who have gone before – some of whom I have mentioned earlier. We have successively met each challenge, and have come through stronger than ever – always ready and able to guide the industry and the policy makers on how best to meet our primary objective of serving our customers with the best electricity supply possible.

One of the significant changes in recent years has been the appointment of Past President Peter Fowles in 2004 as a special adviser to assist the Executive Council in the increasing number of meetings, discussions and negotiations – many both demanding and complicated – with government and parastatal organisations that are now the order of the day.

This is now a full-time appointment and I express my appreciation to Peter for the way he has been able to relieve the workload on our office bearers, and provide an indelible AMEU imprint on the regulatory and policy issues, and the related organisations that seem to be multiplying each year.

And what of the future?

During my term of office I will try to extend our membership to South African municipalities who are not yet members of the association and, from my experience as a board member of PIESA, I hope to broaden the membership even further by persuading some of our African neighbours to join us. When I see how Namibian utilities are responding to our recently formed branch, I believe we can persuade other neighbours to join us and benefit in a similar way.

My first official task is to present the outgoing President Michael Rhode with a certificate in recognition of his outstanding service during his term as president. And also want to make use of this opportunity to present the Past President Sy Gourrah with a certificate in recognition of her outstanding service during her term as president. And I am so sure that we all still remember that Sy was our first female president of the AMEU.

They both showed a keen interest in promoting the activities of the AMEU through their dedicated participation in the different responsibilities as president, and as members of the executive council and committees of the AMEU. The feedback received from different AMEU branches and affiliate activities, highlight that they were there and very much involved. They set a high standard of commitment and loyalty, and that is part of the pressure I mentioned earlier that I am experiencing. I trust that I can continue to build on what they achieved to the advantage of the AMEU, and the industry at large.

On behalf of our colleagues here today, I thank them for a job well done.

It gives me pleasure to present them with these certificates of grateful recognition for the dignified and inspiring manner in which they have fulfilled this high office, and in recognition of their unselfish efforts in promoting and furthering the objectives of the association.

Hannes Roos, incoming president of the AMEU